Dungeons of death

Fr Shay Cullen visiting children in jail. Photos: Missionary Society of St ColumbanFr Shay Cullen visiting children in jail. Photos: Missionary Society of St Columban

The good news is that the Philippine Senate on February 04 2019, adjourned without a vote to lower the age of children who will be held liable for acts considered criminal in nature from 15 to 12 years of age.

That vote may come the first week of June. The politicians in the lower House of Congress, without serious reflection or listening to expert opinion of doctors and psychologists or having a meaningful debate, decided nine-year-old children could be said to be criminals if they violated laws made for adults.

They did so without caring about the serious ramifications and consequences on the lives of thousands of children who make childish mistakes or are manipulated by corrupt adults. There was shock and outrage from the public and the NGOs and the International Community. They changed and set criminal liability at 12 years of age and to soften the harsh cruel decision, they called it the age of “social responsibility”. The blaming of children for crime is just to cover up the failure of government to rein in the crime syndicates if they are in fact using children to commit crimes. Instead of arresting the ringleaders, they arrest the children whom they ridiculously blame for adult crimes.

Child psychologists say children of 12 years of age cannot have sufficient rational thought processes and clear knowledge of right and wrong to be held fully accountable for committing serious crimes.

The proposed change in the law that is before the Philippine Senate is to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 12 years of age.

Children’s rights defenders held a rally outside the Senate gates while members of the *Preda Foundation went into the chambers of the five senators who are as yet undecided. There, they presented to each office a clear book folder of photographs and two large photos of small children held in jails to the Senator’s staff.

These graphic photographs are hard evidence showing that for many years, children as young as ten years of age and some younger and some older have been and are today held as criminals and prisoners inside jails insidiously called Bahay Pag-asa, or Houses of Hope. The Senators, or their investigators, have never visited and do not know the abuse and pain-filled days the children suffer in overcrowded jail cells. They suffer 24 hours, 7 days a week, without exercise, social care, education, parent’s visits, or entertainment. The Senators are fooling themselves when they say they are beautiful places of reform and education.

They naively believe untruths that these places are lovely youth homes with programs of reform, education, counselling, values formation, and therapy. They are no such thing. The children are incarcerated and abused. Some are jailed for breaking curfew, taking food in the market to survive, living on the streets afraid to go home to a brutal parent, or arrested for sniffing industrial glue to ease pain. They are accused frequently without evidence but declared guilty by an official and then locked up and confined in jail cells. They sleep on the concrete floor, sit there to eat often bad expired food and endure the awful stink of urine and faeces in blocked toilet holes.

Joshua, a 12-year-old, was a homeless boy afraid to go home to a strict father who beat him and relatives who cursed him when he made any little mistake. He found refuge on the streets with friends who gave him food. He sniffed glue to ease the loneliness and hurt of being rejected by his family.

Young children in jail.

He was arrested by the Tanod (district guards) and was locked in the Bahay Pag-asa cells like a prisoner. The older inmates bullied him, tied him down, and raped him several times. He was made a slave washing the clothes of the older boys. They threatened him if he complained.

He was given expired canned food and stale rice several times. He slept on the concrete floor. The cell stank from the blocked toilets. He was made to clean them. He was held for nine months. Many other small boys suffered the same. They were forced to perform sex acts on the old bullies. If they refused, they were beaten and their food taken from them, Joshua said. Then he was transferred to the Preda NGO Home for Boys where he was free and happy and told his story of abuse and suffering.

Many children saved from the hellholes of the bad Bahay Pag-asa tell the same damaging experience of being a prisoner, suffering abuse, rape, beaten up and always hungry. 

The Senators think these hellholes will reform children 12 to 15 years old. They are gravely mistaken. These places dehumanize the innocent children, convince them they are criminals, and prepare them for a future of violence, anger and crime.

These are dungeons of death where the noble Senators will condemn thousands of children today and in the years to come. They will be truly blamed by the Philippine people who are against the lowering of the age and against all such abuse to children especially caused by Senators who should know better.

Fr Shay Cullen SSC has been a missionary in the Philippines since 1969 and is the founder of *PREDA (People’s Recovery, Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation)

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