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A STORY BEHIND THE BARS

by Anonymous last modified Sep 03, 2019 01:22 AM

After greeting the police officer on duty, I went inside to the cells and heard a child crying. To my surprise, a heartbreaking scene was waiting for me. A little six-year old child was holding a soft drink can and crying out, “Mama, I want my Mama. Mama come for me.” She was made to be like a criminal behind the iron bars of a terrible, smelly cell.

A STORY BEHIND THE BARS

by Columban Fr. Shay Cullen

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Fr. Shay is the founder of People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation in Olongapo City, Philippines.

 

One evening, during Holy Week, I was downtown in Olongapo City. The city had one source of employment and that was entertaining sex tourists. Thousands of young girls, many of them are underage, were victims of human trafficking and bound to sex bars by debt bondage. Hundreds of these bars lined the streets, and they operated with a mayor’s permit.

Many street children were running around and begging for money from the foreign sex tourists as usual, despite the threats of pedophiles prowling the streets who might lure them away to abuse them.

The PREDA Foundation established a home for these street children where professional social workers can protect and care for them. Today, there are forty children in the care of the PREDA Home for Girls recovering from sexual abuse. In the Home for Boys, another thirty children are sheltered.

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That same night, I went to visit Police Station B on Magsaysay Drive, Olongapo City because bailing children out who were jailed and bringing them to a safe home is part of PREDA Foundation’s work: protection, therapy, support, and a new start in life.

After greeting the police officer on duty, I went inside to the cells and heard a child crying. To my surprise, a heartbreaking scene was waiting for me. A little six-year old child was holding a soft drink can and crying out, “Mama, I want my Mama. Mama come for me.” She was made to be like a criminal behind the iron bars of a terrible, smelly cell. 

I immediately took out a camera and photographed Rosi as evidence of a crime committed against the children. If the minimum age of criminal liability gets lowered to nine or twelve years old, more children will suffer the same situation.

I found about eight other street children from six to 12 years old in that filthy cell. Most were sleeping on the dirty stone floor. In the opposite cell, was a half-naked man so close that he could almost touch the children. Rosi was terrified of him.

I immediately informed the police on duty to release the children to social workers as they were being traumatized and violated of their rights by being detained in a jail cell. They seemed surprised as if they did not know.

I advised the police to call the child care center in advance to be prepared in receiving the children. After almost an hour, a police van with a wire cage on the back came to the station and brought them safely to the center, where they were given food and shelter.

Later I found out that Rosi’s mother, Julia, was a dirt-poor street vendor selling peanuts to passersby to survive. A corrupt local government official called a “tanod” or village guard would only allow vendors to sell illegally on the streets if they’d pay him. When Julia could not afford to do so, the “tanod”, arrested Rosi and locked her up in the police cell where she’ll stay until Julia can pay to have her released. It was an extortion racket that the poor vendors suffered through.

We are still campaigning to stop the jailing of minors despite it being ruled as illegal. Today, thousands of children are put into detention cells because local governments do not obey the juvenile justice and welfare law.

Although the PREDA Foundation provides safe and beautiful homes for many of these children, we just cannot help them all. There will always be jailed minors like Rosi until the local government units do their duty and respect the law and the rights of a child.

 

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PREDA main house, Olongapo City

 

(This article is an edited version of “The Story Behind the Photograph of Rosi” originally published in www.preda.org on January 25, 2019)

 

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