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.
A victim of jail culture
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.
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.