Children from the slums of Manila are considered the most vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. (Photo by Angie de Silva/ucanews.com)
Filipinos love their children. They care for them, pamper and spoil them at times. They do everything to protect and educate them, meet their needs and launch them on a career.
There it seems to end for many. Love and care for children in general is not projected outside the extended family of the well-to-do. It is clear the poor survive by helping each other.
There are some dedicated Christians and Muslims who work to help the abused and abandoned children but they are a vast minority among a population of 107 million Filipinos.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of children in need of Good Samaritans. In the Philippines and elsewhere, there are wounded, hungry, lonely, incarcerated children languishing in filthy jail cells.
They are largely ignored, unknown and abandoned by the population in general, and church authorities and well-off politicians in particular.
The government's Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council is working non-stop to try and change these attitudes. But it is fighting an uphill battle against uncaring politicians.
These poor youth are at risk, abandoned, and neglected. Consequently, they often come into conflict with the law.
They need special protection, care and therapy, and education. They are victims of physical and sexual abuse in their families and neighborhoods.
Instead of care and protection, they are treated as criminals and put behind bars with no beds, exercise, counseling, therapy, sunlight, fresh air, education, recreation, proper food, family visits, justice or compassion.
They are "throwaway children" considered by the government and society as useless human garbage. Some are as young as 9 years old.
They are badly treated by irresponsible and uncaring politicians as if they are the scum of the earth, and yet they are all innocent, good children.
Due process for youth in conflict with the law is wanting in the Philippines.
Children are the most important in the world, we learn from Jesus of Nazareth. Their tormentors and abusers must be brought to justice. Instead, their abusers are allowed to go on abusing and incarcerating innocent children.
These gospel values to care for poor jailed children are generally ignored by the church, by many children's agencies, and by society.
What the children deserve and need is to be freed, respected, helped, and encouraged, affirmed and supported. Instead, they are ignored.
Witness the hardship and listen to their voices begging to be freed and reunited with their parents. Listen to them wail as they lie on the cold, hard concrete floor, hungry and sick with no one to help them.
In most cases for kids behind bars, there is no official hearing, no interviews, no presumption of innocence. They get no legal aid, yet suffer violation after violation of their rights.
The younger ones are bullied, often sexually and physically abused by the older ones, and sometimes by the guards. Some small children are in cells with mentally challenged adults, which is a grave crime. They live in fear.
Many look at the children as criminals. Some government leaders even want to change the law so that 9-year-olds can be held criminally liable and stand trial.
These children need help. Our home for the children we rescued is in the countryside and it's almost full. There, they receive education, therapy, and can enjoy a good and happy life.
This could be possible for all Filipino children who run afoul of the law, if only government officials would show the commitment to really help.
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.