Saving Juan for a life of dignity

There is an urgent need for Philippine authorities to establish therapeutic homes for children in conflict with the law
Saving Juan for a life of dignity

Columban missionary priest Shay Cullen claims that many children in conflict with the law are not given the proper care in government-run institutions in the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Preda)

It is a case of redemption for 16-year-old Juan, a pickpocket who was caught with stolen goods during a fiesta in Cebu.

Philippine law is compassionate and when minors are found guilty they are given suspended sentences.

But unbeknown to judges, most detainees are placed in overcrowded detention cells such as the Operation Second Chance in Cebu City.

A few lucky ones like Juan are sent to the Preda Foundation’s New Dawn Homes in Zambales or Cebu. These Preda homes offer a free diversion program to help them grow and change with the help of value education and therapy.
 
In the Preda New Dawn Home in Liloan, Juan received a new start in life thanks to the compassion and concern of a judge in Cebu City. The judge has visited the home by the sea and saw the excellent lifestyle there and the development of the boys. He has promised to transfer more boys like Juan.
 
When Juan was transferred from the Operation Second Chance, he found a warm, friendly welcome at the home.

He began to see himself in a different way. He threw off the wrong belief that he was a worthless young criminal and began to realize he has a precious, God-given dignity and value. With therapy and value training, he learned that he is a good person and is better and happier every day.

With a community of 17 boys, Juan is recovering from the effects of hardship and life of conflict with the law, society and parents. The boys in the home all came from a dark, troubled childhood and they accepted Juan into the family.  

Their human needs are provided for, everyone respects and cooperates with each other. The professional staff teach them human and spiritual values. They learn how important they are as human beings as Jesus of Nazareth taught in Matthew 18, with rights and dignity.

Juan learned to think about values, to know what is right and wrong, good and bad, truth and untruth, love and hate, justice and injustice.  He learned that as a human being he has free will and can choose good or bad, to love or to hate and do good or do evil.

The most important of all is the formation of values in his spirit, mind and heart. He was given the motivation and empowerment through growing self-confidence to choose the good, to speak the truth, to act with honesty. This is no easy challenge for a youth who grew up in a culture of poverty and crime that led him to steal to survive.

A victim of jail culture

Juan is ninth in a family of 10 children and his father was a construction worker with occasional employment until he died of a heart condition in 2016. His mother is a domestic helper for a rich family but earns very little, and poverty and hunger in the slums were their only companions.

When the metal iron gates clanged shut on 16-year-old Juan, he tried to hold back tears at what he knew he would face in the Operation Second Chance behind bars.

Soon he was a victim of jail culture. He was bullied, dominated and raped in the first week and several times thereafter. He was too small and weak to fight back.

He had no money to pay for pain-relieving drugs unlike other inmates who got high. He had no visitors, no extra food and was a slave doing the laundry and serving the bigger boys. He slept on a concrete floor. The hardship was so bad he tried to kill himself five times. But suicide is not easy and finally he planned to throw himself from a high window when he heard he would be transferred to the New Dawn Home.

When he arrived, he felt welcome and found friendship and peace. In the therapy room, he relived the horror of childhood abuse and the rape and violence in the Operation Second Chance. He cried and shouted and punched the cushions, as if beating off his abusers. He released the pain and anger and frustration at his once miserable worthless life.

He learned who and what he is, a person of value with dignity and one who felt respect and being wanted. His growing self-understanding and awareness of himself as a reflective human person helped transform him to become a strong person with hope and determination to live a worthwhile life.

Soon he will be reintegrated with his family and enrolled in school with aftercare and continuous support. It’s a new life for Juan and many more like him. Preda supports as many as a hundred children in care daily.

Persuading local governments to establish therapeutic homes like Preda is our goal and hope shared with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council.

These child prisoners live in subhuman conditions where physical and sexual abuse is rife. Millions of pesos are available for local governments to build the new homes for children but the mayors have no interest. They allow the children to be violated daily. It is a crime against children.
 
Direct action by local government to build new homes is key to ending the abuse of children in government-run institutions that are like dungeons of death. A real home will bring them to life with education, healing and respect.

These are their rights as Filipinos, as humans and as children. The good life that Juan is receiving must be given to all children in conflict with the law.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

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