donderdag, januari 15, 2015

Street children detained to clear way for Pope Francis' Manila visit


Simon Parry

"They are a shame on the nation. Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the pope seeing children treated in this way."
In a local newspaper interview, Rosalinda Orobia, head of the Social Welfare Department in Manila's central Pasay district, confirmed officials had for weeks been detaining street children as young as five in the areas the pope will visit. She claimed the operations were aimed at stopping begging syndicates targeting the pope rather than tidying up the city.
"[The syndicates] know the pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that," she told the Manila Standard.
In a commentary, the newspaper slammed the campaign, saying, "We all understand the natural tendency to put one's best foot forward when guests come calling, but hiding away poor street children completely misses the point of the pope's apostolic exhortation to hear the cry of the poor.
"We should all be scandalised by the government's artificial campaign to keep the streets free of poor children only for the duration of the papal visit, with no cogent plan to keep them in schools or their homes, where they belong, and to instil discipline among their parents, who should know better."
The editorial concluded: "There is no question that children should be kept off the streets, but a campaign to do so just for the duration of a dignitary's visit helps nobody except the officials who want to put on a show and pretend that all is well in our cities."

The practice of locking up street children ahead of major international events in Manila dates back to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Leaders' Summit of 1996, says Catherine Scerri, deputy director of street children charity Bahay Tuluyan.
"There has been a pattern of this happening before big international events. It happened before [United States President Barack] Obama's visit to the Philippines in April last year," says the Australian, who has worked for 11 years to improve the lives of Manila's legions of street children. "When we tried to have them released we were told they couldn't come out until after Obama had gone and the children were very much given the impression that they were 'rescued' because of this visit."
A survey of street children by Bahay Tuluyan has found that the so-called rescues are indiscriminate, targeting youngsters who have committed no offences and do not want to go to detention centres. Children are taken in simply for sleeping on the street, for begging or for stealing food to relieve their hunger, with no proper judicial process and - rather than "rescued" - exposed to abuse.
"There is no reason the shelters should be like this and what I find soul-destroying is the apathy of the people who work in and around places like the RAC [the notorious Manila Reception and Action Centre] and allow this brutality," says Scerri. "I can understand a lack of resources, but what I find so frustrating is the violence, torture and apathy, and the fact that people are standing by and letting this happen. I think that is completely inexcusable.
"The RAC and other institutions call these children recidivists even though they have committed no crimes," she says. "One child of 13 we interviewed had been rescued 59 times and was back on the street."

Few people in Manila know how children are treated in the detention centres. "When people find out, they are outraged," says Scerri. "They are horrified to find out what the government is doing in their name."
Anger erupted in the Philippines in October, when the picture of a skeletal 11-year-old lying on the ground at the RAC, apparently near death, was published. The boy, who shares the pope's Christian name, Francisco, is now recovering at a children's home run by a charity but protests over his case have failed to halt round-ups or improve conditions at Philippine detention centres, where an estimated 20,000 children are held each year.
In an article written for a Catholic publication as the controversy over Francisco's case spread, Father Shay described the emaciated child as an innocent at the gates of hell and called the RAC a "house of horrors" and "a place of the living dead": "It was his protruding rib cage that shocked most of all. Each rib could be clearly counted. There was no discernible breathing but one could not know from looking at his starved naked body," he wrote. "He was close to the last stage of a painful death, it seemed.
"Government employees of this place seemed indifferent to the suffering child of Lazarus that lay sprawled at the foot of an institutional wall. Who could look on that emaciated, severely malnourished body of a child for a moment and not feel a pang of compassion and be shocked at his horrid state?
"Here was a human person with the dignity, value and importance as a Filipino child of God, endowed with rights and needs, left to die as if he were nothing more than a bag of bones."
Describing what he saw on his own visits to the RAC, where many of the children at the Preda Foundation were saved from, Father Shay says mentally disabled children at the centre are treated particularly harshly.
"The children clustered around the wooden bars and cried to be let out and begged me to help them go home to their parents. There was no therapeutic, educational or entertainment programme for the children," he wrote.
"There were no toys, comics, games or staff to conduct activities with them. The food is very basic and monotonous. There is no playground equipment to be seen or sports and games facilities. These children … are doomed to a life of ignorance without meaning and purpose."
Away from the horrors of the RAC, social workers and child psychologists help rehabilitate street children at the Preda Foundation homes in lush countryside near Subic Bay. In an interview conducted by a trained child psychologist, a boy called Ben describes how, last year - aged six - he was abandoned by his mother and then picked up by police as he slept on the street. He woke to find himself in a police cell and then spent three months at the House of Hope, where he was sexually abused by 10 inmates.
"I was very unhappy there," he says,

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