In a blatant abuse of Philippines’ child protection laws, poor kids from Manila’s streets are being caged in filthy detention centers and forced to share the space with adult criminals. The terrified children are being made to sleep on dirty concrete floors, starved and chained to pillars. Many of them are brutally beaten and abused by elder inmates.
No, these are not juveniles being punished for their mischief or any offence. Their only crime is that they were born on the poverty-racked city roads and are now needed to be hidden into enclosures to ‘smarten up’ the Philippines capital ahead of the five-day pastoral visit by Pope Francis. Government officials have thus ‘ensured’ that these urchins are hidden from view when the Pope conducts an open air mass on January 18 at Manila’s Rizal Park expected to be attended by six million people. (Read: Pope Francis gets rockstar treatment in Manila)
A MailOnline investigation found out that hundreds of boys and girls were rounded up from doorways and roadsides by police and put behind bars in appalling conditions to make the city more ‘presentable’ and ensure they are not seen by Pope Francis. Ironically, Pope Francis had said that his focus for the Philippines trip will be on the poor, exploited, and the victims of injustice.
Simon Perry of MailOnline gained rare access to the House of Hope with Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, 71, who secured the release of Mak-Mak, aged 7, and another boy, aged 11 and took them to his Preda Foundation shelter for children in Subic Bay. Mak-Mak, whose legs and body were riddled with scabies, was holed up with convicted criminals in the House of Hope. Innocent children are brutalised and abused, kept behind bars in the House of Hope (set amid slums) and are fed leftovers, which they eat from the floor.
“Lots of children have been brought here lately,” said Paulo, 42, an inmate. “We’re told they’re being picked up from under the road bridges where the pope will travel”.
An infuriated Shay told MailOnline, “Mak-Mak is only about seven years old and he is behind bars. This is completely beneath human dignity and the rights of all the children here are being violated. They have no basic rights. There is no education. There is no entertainment. There is no proper human development. There is nowhere to eat and they sleep on a concrete floor. There is no proper judicial process. These kids are totally without protection. They have no legal representation. They are just put in jail and left to fend for themselves”.
Pasay Social Welfare Department head Rosalinda Orobia confirmed to ManilaStandrad that officials had for weeks been detaining street children as young as five in the areas the Pope will visit. However, she claimed the detention was aimed at removing children working for begging syndicates. “They know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that,” Orobia said of the syndicates.
The caging of street children comes despite anger in the Philippines in November 2014 over photo of “Frederico”, one of the wards at Manila Reception Action Centre (RAC), which showed a boy, reduced to skin and bones, lying on the pavement. Shocked observers likened the place to a “concentration camp“. The 11-year-old boy, Francisco, is now recovering at a children’s home run by a charity Bahay Tuluyan.
Catherine Scerri, deputy director of Bahay Tuluyan, told MailOnline, “More children have been picked up in recent weeks and there has been a pattern of this happening before big international events in the past. It happened before President Obama’s visit to the Philippines in April 2014. When we tried to have them released we were told they couldn’t come out until after Obama had gone and the children were very much given the impression that they were rescued because of this visit”.
According to Scerri, these children are caged for sleeping on the street, for begging, or for stealing food to alleviate their hunger, and are exposed to abuse and exploitation by older children and adults.