CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 1 December 2018

Print Version    Email to Friend
The care that children need

The vast majority of Filipinos love their children; they care for them, pamper and spoil them at times. They do everything to protect them and educate them, meet their needs and launch them on a career. There it seems to end for many. Love and care for children in general is not projected outside the extended family of the well off. It is clear the poor survive by helping each other stay alive. The dedicated few true Christians and Muslims work to help the abused and abandoned children but they are the few in a population of 107 million. Human rights workers are suspect and risk their lives.
 
There are hundreds if not thousands of children in need of Good Samaritans. In the Philippines and elsewhere, there are wounded, hungry, lonely incarcerated children languishing in filthy sub-human jail cells. They are ignored, unknown and abandoned by the population in general and the Church authorities and well-off politicians in particular.  
 
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) chaired by an undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is working nonstop to try and change the attitudes, minds and hearts of local politicians and city council to convince them to provide new dignified and proper homes for the children and not build more prison cells. But the council is fighting an uphill battle against uncaring politicians who see young people and children in poverty and dire circumstances as pests and criminals to be punished.
 
These young people and children from the poverty-stricken parts of society are children at risk, abandoned and neglected and consequently come in conflict with the law. They need special protection, care and therapy and education. They are victims of physical and sexual abuse in their families or neighbourhoods. The child protection law, otherwise known as Republic Act 7610, supposedly protects them but the authorities mostly ignore it also.
 
Instead of care and protection, they are treated as criminals and jailed behind steel bars in sub-human conditions with no beds, exercise, counselling, therapy, sunlight, fresh air, education, recreation, proper food, family visits, justice or compassion. They are the throwaway children considered by government and society as useless human garbage. Some are as young as nine-years-old when jailed.
 
They are badly treated by irresponsible uncaring politicians as if they are the scum of the earth and yet they are all innocent, good children. Under the law, they are not criminally liable once 15 and younger and if older, it has to be proven that they are responsible for wrongdoing. But due process for young people and some suspects is now more or less wanting in the Philippines.
 
Children are the most important in the world, we learn from Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 18: 1-8). Their tormentors and abusers must be brought to justice. Instead, the abusers are allowed to go on abusing and incarcerating innocent children. These gospel values to care for poor jailed children are generally ignored by the Church, by many children’s agencies and by society.
 
What the children deserve and need is to be freed, respected, helped, and encouraged, affirmed and supported. They are entitled to be housed in dignity, with justice, respect, given care and preparation for a productive life with education.
 
Instead, they are ignored by the corrupt, greedy elite who live in sumptuous luxury not caring about the suffering of the children. Witness the hardship and listen to their crying voices begging to be freed and reunited with their parents. Listen to the wailing as they lie on a cold hard concrete floor, hungry and sick and with no one to help them.
 
Visit your local government’s so-called House of Hope or Bahay Pag-Asa. There is supposed to be one in every city and province. There witness the inhumanity. It is a crime against children and humanity where their human rights are violated day and night in a continuous incarceration without end for alleged wrongs that have never been proven. The mayors and the governors have the duty and responsibility to provide the services and dignified care they need.
 
In most cases for kids behind bars, there is no official hearing, no interviews, no presumption of innocence. They get no legal aid, they suffer violation after violation of their rights. They are to be loved and not to be jailed and abused in the cells. They are not worthless animals like stray dogs picked up on the streets.
 
The younger ones are bullied, sexually and physically abused by the older ones and sometimes by the guards. Some small children are in cells with mentally challenged adults, which is a grave crime and against the law putting the children in grave danger. They live in fear and trembling of being sexually abused by the adults or being hurt if they complain or cry out.
 
Many but not all, local and national politicians and leaders consider them to be criminals. Some want to change the law so that hungry, nine-year-old children will be held criminally liable and stand trial for taking a banana in the market to survive and live. This is known and witnessed by the social workers of the Preda Foundation who have appealed to the authorities to change the jails for proper homes. 
 
The children, when rescued by the Preda Foundation, tell us of what they suffered and endured. It is documented. To win justice, we even took a class action suit against politicians to the Ombudsman years ago to no avail.
 
Our home for some of these children we rescued is in the countryside and is almost full. There, they receive education freedom, therapy, sports, education and a good happy life. 
 
This is possible for all Filipino children in conflict with the law if only government officials commit to really helping them.
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org