STREET children in Metro Manila are being held in detention centers alongside adult criminals in a cynical drive to clear the metropolis of “human eyesores” while Pope Francis is in the country.
To make the city more presentable, reports said police and local government officials rounded up hundreds of boys and girls from roadsides and under the bridges. Some of the children reportedly landed in jail.
A story that appeared at MailOnline claimed that the terrified youngsters are locked up in filthy detention cells where they sleep on concrete floors. Many of them are beaten or abused by older inmates.
A senior official who admitted that there had been an intensive round up by police and government workers to make sure the urchins are not seen by Pope Francis confirmed this.
Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, 71, has freed a boy aged seven and took him to his Preda Foundation shelter for children in Subic, Olongapo.
“I cannot confirm if they are detaining the street children specifically for the Pope’s visit, but other people interviewed have, and it looks like they have intensified in recent days,” Cullen said.
“The Pope will not see them, they are hidden away, he would be horrified,” he added.
The boy rescued by Cullen, Mak-Mak, whose legs and body were riddled with scabies, was picked up in early December. He spent Christmas and the New Year in a cell.
The boy was at first frightened but he seemed pleased when charity workers told him he was being transferred to a children’s home.
“Are there toys there?” he asked.
An adult prisoner held with other convicts in a cell directly opposite the pen holding Mak-Mak and the other children, 42-year-old Paulo, said: “Lots of children have been brought here lately. We’re told they’re being picked up from under the road bridges where the Pope will travel.”
“This boy is only about seven years old and he is behind bars. This is completely beneath human dignity and the rights of all the children here are being violated,” Cullen said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) however said there had been no caging of children during Papal visit in the country.
DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman said some 175 street children will be presented to Pope Francis to prove that no caging or jailing had ever happened.
“These children are not hidden from Pope Francis. In fact they will be presented to Pope Francis. They will be part of the send-off activity on Monday. They will be among the 440 children that will participate in a song and dance presentation in the send-off ceremony for Pope on Monday,” she noted.
“We do not jail children. We jail abusers,” Soliman added.