Houses of Horror” is how one visitor described the centers where children are held illegally behind bars or in cages.
Senior Philippine officials responsible for the protection of Filipino children at risk made spot inspections of four child detention centers around Metro Manila this week on the orders of Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman following reports in the foreign media. The officials representing various government agencies were shocked and greatly disturbed when they saw the terrible conditions of the jailed children behind bars in these detention centers run by local government units. The national government has limited jurisdiction over them.
In one center, children are held in these conditions from three months to over one year and nine months. The cells for boys are overcrowded. In another detention center, there is only one social worker to handle the 43 cases. In three centers, the children were in prison cells behind bars. In one jail, a child looked as young as 6 years old.
All the children in another center were barefooted walking on wet floors. One little girl had swollen feet. The children interviewed told the team that they just do cleaning and food preparation all day. Some of the children were mentally challenged and in need of special care. A mentally challenged old lady was in with the children in one center.
The professional fact-finders, accompanied by experienced NGO social workers, did an excellent task. They met officials, social workers and house parents. They observed, noted and took photo-documentation of the conditions. The conditions experienced and observed will confirm previous reports by human rights defenders from non-government organizations. It was the first such visit on record by government officials of high standing. Four detention centers out of as many as twenty were inspected.
The two teams, making a professional inspection over a period of two days, saw the abusive conditions of dirty, smelly toilets, little children boys and girls mixed with older youth, wearing dirty clothes, unwashed and caged behind steel bars and others like criminals in rooms like mesh cages.
They saw children lying and sleeping on concrete floors. Most centers were lacking beds, sleeping mats and mosquito nets. Food was eaten sitting on the floor.
The floors and walls were dirty and one with graffiti. There were no programs for emotional healing, therapy, education, physical exercise, games, books or any mental stimulation. The older boys in one center could touch younger girls.
The fact-finding teams saw that the children suffered 24 hours of confinement with no sunlight exposure. There was bad ventilation and dirty toilets and the smell of urine pervades the place. The investigators asked for the case studies and social workers’ reports, files or records of the children- there were hardly any. Many children were unidentified and without birth certificates and no effort were allegedly taken to find parents or relatives. One child was found to be eight years old.
The fact-finding team was made up of senior representatives of the following agencies and the Preda Foundation: DSWD-Standards Bureau, DSWD-Protective Services Bureau, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council National Secretariat and the Regional Juvenile Justice Council and the representative of the Commission on Human Rights.
These higher officials will make their official report to the social welfare secretary who will reveal the truth of their findings to the public. What they did see and can’t be denied is evidence of crimes of child neglect and abuse committed against the children inside these hellholes. It is against Philippine law to put children in jails.
NGO’s have found that some children have been sexually abused by the older youth in the detention centers. One girl was sexually assaulted in the Marikina youth center by a male guard. A criminal case is now in court but he still works in the center with ascendency over the other children. How can it be allowed to happen?
Jovan is one of the hundreds of children thrown inside the barred cells which can only be described as dungeons of death since they die spiritually without love, attention and care and due to physical and sexual abuse.
Young girls who are victims of serious crimes such as sexual abuse, exploitation and human trafficking are locked up too in centers all over metro Manila and elsewhere. They are accused as if criminals and not victims and are easy prey for guards and police to be sexually exploited again.
The girls held in separate cells receive no therapy or healing. Many are returned to their pimps and abusers since the sex industry is tolerated and sex bars and brothels are permitted to operate with a city permit signed by the mayor.
The Preda organization cares for victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse and urges the government agencies to arrest the traffickers and rescue the child victims and refer them to the Preda therapeutic home for girls situated in the countryside.
There they will be protected, healed and empowered as strong witnesses and help secure convictions. The children rescued from prisons by Preda Foundation are given a place in a happy home where there are no bars or fences and they experience freedom and respect.
We have to do all we can to tackle the root causes like poverty and challenge the officials who neglect the children. It is intolerable that they have to live on the streets and go hungry, neglected and exploited and then jailed like criminals.
We need to let our feelings enliven our beliefs in the dignity of the human person and turn them into action to free the children and give them a life of dignity.