Torture and Abuse of Children in Jails

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by David Quigley via Creative Commons/Flickr

The unpleasant truths about the torture and abuse of children behind bars are the truths that may not set us free from guilt, apathy, and indifference. In the Philippines’ Bahay Pag-asa, youth detention jails, children and youth are maltreated and abused in detention and many countries. Treating youth as criminals has a life-long traumatic impact on them. One thing for sure is the loss of trust and respect for the adult world of authority that allows them to get abused. As the saying goes, “Abuse a child, and you make an enemy.”

In Cambodia, last June, Kak Sovann Chhay, an autistic 16-year old Cambodian teenager following the human rights activism of his jailed father, was imprisoned. Kak Sovann Chhay sent a message on Telegram to government supporters, which they considered insulting to government officials. The police broke into his house without a warrant and handcuffed, arrested, beat, and jailed Kak in the adult prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. A lawyer said the prison was in a filthy condition, not fit for an animal.

UN officials have been alerted and expressed urgent concern for violations of his human rights. He is facing two years in jail in the notorious sub-human conditions of a Cambodian prison.

In the United States, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released in June 2015 a report on the abuse of minors in detention. In summary, it said: “This report, released as a follow-up to No Place for Kids, introduces new evidence on the widespread maltreatment of youth in state-funded juvenile corrections facilities. It tells of high rates of sexual victimization, the heavy-handed use of disciplinary isolation and a growing roster of states where confined youth have been subject to widespread abuse. The four-year update is in — and the news on violence in juvenile detention centers is not good”.

They are correct; jail is no place for kids. If youth are rebellious, it is because they are unloved and abused by parents or society. They are born innocent; how come they become angry, young people?

Sixteen-year-old Jun (not his real name) was born in Negros Occidental, Philippines. His parents broke up, and his father left for Manila. His mother lived with a stepfather, and he was abusive and beat Jun repeatedly. When he continued to get abused, Jun ran away.

He got a free trip on a boat to Manila and tried to find his father but failed to see him. He met a friendly family, and they gave Jun an occasional motorcycle driver in the area. On one trip, the passenger insisted on being brought to a distant place. Jun was stopped by police and arrested for not having a driving license. The police charged him with stealing the motorbike for he did not have papers for it. The owner came to get it, but they jailed Jun in the Bahay Pag-asa, a youth detention center, and filed a criminal case against him.

“They are correct; jail is no place for kids. If youth are rebellious, it is because they are unloved and abused by parents or society. They are born innocent; how come they become angry, young people?”

The detention center was, for him, a hellhole of abuse, neglect, and violence. He slept on the concrete floor, given bad-tasting expired food. They forced him to clean the filthy toilet, wash the clothes of the other bigger boys, and suffered severe violence and abuse. He was the cell slave.

The government social workers and guards ignored all this. They hung Jun by force on the bars, and they beat him while he turned there. On his birthday, he had a traumatic experience. The other youth prisoners covered him with a blanket and beat, punched, and kicked him until he collapsed and was almost unconscious. No one would help him in the detention jail for nearly a year.

Jun was lucky to be arrested and not to have been shot dead. The police shot as many as 122 children and teenagers in the war-on-drugs where they enjoy shoot-to-kill with impunity. According to a World Organization Against Torture report, the police admit to killing as many as 7,000 suspects, more or less. They said the suspects “fought back” and “resisted.” But the children were targets. Also, some died, some caught in the cross-fire, the police said.

On July 27, 2020, the prosecutor dismissed the case against Jun and ordered his release. He had no family to take him, and the detention jail authorities would not release him. It was unlawful detention. Preda social workers heard about Jun in the prison cell- hungry, malnourished, bruised, and beaten. He dared tell no one. They completed the legal documentation for his transfer to Preda Home for Boys. The Preda New Dawn Home is a government-accredited care home for youth like Jun.

When Preda transferred Jun, he ate lots of good food, played basketball, found friends, and has now started his studies, learning to read and write. He found freedom, acceptance, affirmation, and respect. Jun is undertaking vocational training, learning welding and electrical appliance repair, and loves to help on the farm. He has therapy and counseling to help deal with his inner traumatic emotional hurt and pain.

The Preda social worker was able to locate his biological father in Manila and his mother in Negros Occidental. It is a dream come true for Jun. He can talk to them by phone. Soon, Jun will have a more comfortable life as he gets reintegrated into his biological father.

“We need government officials everywhere to grow a conscience and do their duty to protect children in homes, not in jails, and never allow torture and sexual abuse. That is everyone’s duty and responsibility.”

Not all such cases turn out for the best. Small kids as young as 10 and 12 have been jailed in youth jails and have been sexually abused and tortured. Preda called in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the abuse suffered by the children rescued by Preda social workers.

They interviewed the children and confirmed the torture and abuse. The children described what they suffered by drawings. Visit www.preda.org/gallery/jailed-children.

What more extraordinary supporters do the children have than Jesus of Nazareth, who said children are the most important in the world (Matt.18:1-7) and they must bring their abusers and enablers to justice. We need government officials everywhere to grow a conscience and do their duty to protect children in homes, not in jails, and never allow torture and sexual abuse. That is everyone’s duty and responsibility.

shaycullen@gmail.com

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