The Filipino kids still behind bars
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By: Father Shay Cullen
There has been progress in saving and releasing hundreds of small children and youth from the stench filled cells across the Philippines. President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered last 16 July 2007 that all children be released from the prisons, police jails and so-called reception centers, a euphemism for child prisons. The Preda children's home in Olongapo is almost full but ready to receive more children and is building a new home for some of those to be released. Cradle a child prison in Metro Manila is to be closed. The president heard the cries of the children echoed by the charities helping them survive.
This happened after a concerted lobbying by many concerned charities including Preda Foundation in Olongapo city. Other prisons called, youth reception or rehabilitation centers, are really prisons. They too must be closed and the children returned to their parents or those abandoned or homeless given true homes and care.
There could yet be an estimated 20,000 waiting for freedom. The new Juvenile Justice and Welfare law says they must be released, the presidential executive order 633 made only this July, says it must be implemented without delay but bureaucracy is moribund and there is no ready homes for the many children behind bars.
Many have no parents and authorities have been unable to or unwilling to look for those that have parents. More children's homes are needed desperately for these abandoned and neglected children. The President no matter how well intentioned in ordering the release has to address the immediate and long term needs of these Throwaway Children. Where will they go? Back to the streets to be taken up by criminal gangs, trafficked into the sex industry and become domestic slaves or be sold to pedophiles?
There will never be enough homes and vocational training centers until there is a massive change in government policy and spending. Government officials must stop siphoning off the money from the treasury for their sumptuous mansions and foreign travel junkets. They must spend it on more professional social workers case officers and new homes for street children and those teenagers in conflict with the law. Life behind bars for even one day is traumatic and Jesse had been there for almost two months
A visit to a big child detention center in Metro Manila uncovered the plight of Jesse a small 9 year old boy from an impoverished family, he is locked away behind bars and we are trying to set him and many more free. The charity workers found him and dozens more huddled on the cold dirty concrete floor surrounded by almost fifty boys, all street urchins, 7 years old to 14. All are innocent of any crime other than being poor and homeless. The girls section is totally cut off from all contact with the outside world. What is happening to them nobody knows.
Jesse and the fifty or so boys possessions are few, a pair of dirty shorts, a T-shirt, some had slippers, others had none. They were free from the burdens that wealth brings. But no other kind of freedom for them. They are the kids behind bars. Never free from disease, toothache, hunger, fear, anger and loneliness. They have no birthday parties, education, games, recreation, play time, no nutritious food, no clothes, toothbrushes or any of the simple needs that make us feel human.
One toilet gave off a stench that made the visitors wretch and almost vomit. The kids had no beds, and slept on the cold concrete floor. Bodies were piled on each other in an overcrowded cell that measured about 12’ X 16’. Mosquitoes make deadly nocturnal feasts on there blood and leave behind the malaria and dengue parasites.
One year ago, 9 youth died in a single period of 15 days. There was no investigation but a doctor was called in to stop the dying and incredibly with little more than dedication has prevented more from dying.
Urgent immediate help is needed for the eight to
twelve year olds. A few can be released to the Preda Boys Home. What are
urgently needed in the jails and “reception” centers is nutritional
food, clothes, medical assistance, recreation, and contact with parents.
Action is needed today and everyday until they are well fed, cared for
and helped to go free and start a life of dignity. [End]