Free the Child Prisoners Before They Die

by Fr. Shay Cullen

We are all feeling the restriction of confinement in our homes with the Coronavirus lock-down which is to continue.  We cannot go where we please so let’s think of the prisoners jailed unjustly for years. Many of them are political prisoners and human rights activists caged like animals, and above all, they who suffer most- the children behind bars. All are in danger of the Coronavirus.  

Many thousands are imprisoned without any evidence against them and without being charged.  Many are jailed for non-serious offenses. The Coronavirus puts them in grave danger of death, a painful and desperate death. They die gasping from slow suffocation, alone, abandoned, unaided, unknown, isolated, and unreported as if they never existed.       

The children are the most vulnerable as they are weak from malnutrition, racked by asthma, some with tuberculosis, and damaged by physical and sexual abuse and hurt. They are jailed in subhuman conditions. Most sleep on concrete floors and sub-human conditions. They are deprived of education, exercise, sunlight, fresh air, good food, medical help, legal help, entertainment, visitors, without showers, and toilets. It is a desperate, dangerous situation. They must be freed at once.   

I can reveal and prove that many of them are tortured. Here is a small fragment of the evidence of their torture in their pictures. Visit www.preda.org/gallery/jailed children.  

Raymond (not his real name),13 years old, is now safe in the Preda home for rescued boys. He is a small boy, one of many, picked up on the streets by the tanods (local community guards) in Metro Manila and jailed in the so-called Bahay Pagasa (House of Hope).  He, like others, ran away from an abusive, violent father. He lived on the streets begging. Like hundreds of street children, he had nowhere to hide and was jailed. Just imagine if your young boy was punished like this.  

There are six images drawn on the page. In Raymond’s drawing, he shows the torture and abuse he suffered in the local government-run Bahay Pagasa. It reads like the torture that suspected terrorists were made to suffer.

On a single page are six images, the first a picture of flies on rotten food. They ate bad tasting, fly-infested expired food from cans. The cans were likely donated by companies. Then the centre’s budget for fresh food disappeared.  

The second image is of Raymond forced to climb the steel bars of the cell and left to hang there for pain-filled hours, a cruel punishment. Sometimes, he was punched and whacked with a rubber slipper. Below that, to the left, Raymond is shown being beaten with a stick and spat upon as if he was dirt. To the centre right is a drawing of when he is sleeping. The older boys, some adults, or the guards put toothpaste in his eyes causing painful stinging and beat him with a rubber slipper when he fights back.

On the upper right side of the drawing, Raymond shows how he was put in a steel drum and the others beat the sides of the drum to inflict severe noise, causing pain, hurting, and damaging his eardrums. The bottom right side of the drawing is when he was forced to clean the filthy, clogged toilet bowl. He sometimes sleeps on metal grills. The Bahay Pagasa is a regime of cruel torture and child abuse and it is common.  

The Philippines system of law enforcement is very weak, arbitrary and in general, there is much abuse of authority. The law is there to protect, not to punish unjustly. Yes, the dangerous criminals- murderers and rapists- need to be held in jail to protect the public, but not the children especially with Coronavirus hovering nearby. This is the great hidden scandal of the local governments- the torture of children in the Bahay Pagasa.  They need to be overhauled and made compliant with the guidelines issued by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC).

Alvin is 12 years old. His drawing shows how he was forced to hang on the bars and beaten. He was hung by the feet, so the blood rushed to the head and gave him a severe headache. He was forced to stand against a wall with legs stretched out in a painful, stress position, He cried with the pain. His picture shows also rotten food. He was hit on the ears and was forced to hold up a heavy box causing pain. He had to kneel for hours in a stress position. He was shouted at, insulted, and beaten with a rubber slipper when in these stress positions.

There are many more child victims who have and are suffering like this. We must raise our voices in any way we can and demand that they are released without delay.

 As Jesus of Nazareth said, to be his true follower we have to have commitment and action to help free the oppressed and the captives as he did (Luke 4:18) To be a member of God’s family, we will be asked when did we visit the prisoners and help them? (Matthew  25:35) Matthew exposed the torture and massacre of the children by King Herod (Matthew 3:16) and he wrote about how Jesus told his audience that the most important in the world are children.

Lets us act now. Share this article on your Facebook account and send it to the Commission on Human Rights at chrcrc@yahoo.com and Secretary Eduardo Año of the Department of Interior and Local Government at emano@dilg.gov.ph. Ask him to act with the JJWC headed by Secretary Rolando Bautista of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The DSWD is the “lead social protection agency” that is requesting the release of old and sick prisoners so they, too, must release all detained children in the different Bahay Pagasa. Then, they must act to close the Bahay Pagasa that are houses of torture and abuse and instead build genuine child development centers. Acting together, we can bring change. 

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