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Children in Prison

Aired August 10, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN HOST (voice-over): As many as 20,000 children are behind bars in the Philippines right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we were treated well and cared for by our parents, we would not become like this. Just like you were cared for well by your parents, that explains what you are now. If we had been treated like you, we would not become thieves.

CHURCH: Roughly 28 children are arrested every day, more than one child every hour.


Hello and welcome. I'm Rosemary Church.

Well, according to Amnesty International, over 50,000 children in the Philippines have been arrested and detained since 1995. And as Chris Rogers reports, torture, rape and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment are a part of every day life for those children while they're incarcerated.


CHRIS ROGERS, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 13-year-old Edwin, just one of 20,000 children behind bars. Some guilty of petty crimes, others guilty of nothing, homeless and unwanted, denied their human rights. Locked up in adult, overcrowded jails, open to abuse. Sharing bed with pedophiles.

This is the evil in Philippine jails the world wasn't meant to see.

To gather our evidence, we went undercover with a team of charity workers bringing help to inmates, claiming to document urgent cases on camera. We were welcomed to a hell on earth. Adult cells crammed full of bodies and disease.

This prison's warden told me he barely had the resources to keep the inmates alive.

It's a college of crime for child prisoners. There are too few social workers to help them, not enough courts to put them in trial.

(on camera): Imagine sticking your head inside a fully-heated oven that stinks of urine and body odor, and that's pretty much what we're experiencing here in this jail. We've only been here half an hour and it's absolutely unbearable. Imagine being here for a month, like Osama has.

(voice-over): The 13-year-old is accused of stealing a necklace.

Catholic missionary Shay Cullen has decided to dedicate his life to helping these vulnerable prisoners. He brought us to a jail he's particularly concerned about, where we found the true horrors of mixed cells.

At this prison, teenaged boys are locked up with sexual offenders. One giggled as he told us he had a special relationship with the boys. Another says he was in charge.

(on camera): What is going on?

FATHER SHAY CULLEN, CATHOLIC MISSIONARY: It's difficult to see, really, but it would seem that there is a lot of men here who will have a great interest in the boys, maybe they have some pedophile instincts.

ROGERS (voice-over): Shay's inspiration for his work comes from 5- year-old Rose. He discovered her sipping a typical childhood treat of cola in a cramped prison cell.

The missionary's grim discoveries never end. Kareem is 11, charged with the pettiest of crimes, imprisoned with 200 of the most wanted, included murderers and alleged terrorists. Kareem is petrified.

In another jail, 14-year-old Alpi (ph) told us his back is rotting. This is what happens when you sleep on a dirty floor.

Manmi (ph) sleeps on a makeshift bed like the one he had on the streets.

"They feed me and I have friends here. It's better than being on the streets," he told me.

How can a child think jail is better than life on the streets? We searched for more children like Manmi (ph) in the city slums.

Under a bridge, we found a community of orphaned and abandoned children. They sniff glue to heal the pain of homelessness and numb the fear of police abuse.

Last week, Jim Boy, who is just 10, managed to escape from prison. He said it was OK for a while because the food was good, but the police beat him so he ran away.

While we filmed, a patrol car sped by. They suddenly scurried up a sewer pipe, a well rehearsed escape.

Children aren't just treated like rubbish, they live off of it. On the city dumps, families search for food and junk to sell.

(on camera): There are dozens of communities like this across the Philippines and it makes you wonder, if free people end up living and working in conditions like this, how can you expect imprisoned people to be found in decent, humane conditions in jails? It's also hardly surprising why children turn to crime to try to make a living.

(voice-over): But 13-year-old Edwin knows there is a high price to pay. Four months of prison life has scarred him physically and mentally. While we were filming, Edwin learned Father Shay Cullen wants to rescue him. He is demanding his release, demanding justice. It's an agonizing wait for Edwin, but a single ray of hope in his miserable existence.

Today we take you on a journey only a handful of child prisoners ever make, a journey to freedom. To a place where there is a chance for childhood and opportunity rather than abuse and disease. Where, through therapy, their cries for help are heard, not ignored.

13-year-old Edwin has a real chance of making that journey, but there is only one man that can help him.

Catholic missionary Shay Cullen is searching for children arrested overnight for petty crimes. 150 are thrown into adult, overcrowded jails every day where they spent months waiting for justice.

13-year-old Edwin has been in this adult cell for four months awaiting trial for stealing flip flops. Father Shay's child rescue team are going in, armed with a court order to release Edwin into their care. We filmed undercover as part of the team about to end Edwin's misery.

Edwin told us the police beat him on the head with their guns. "All the children here look out for each other," he says. He's also developed scabies.

(on camera): As you speak to some of these children, you begin to (AUDIO GAP) poverty and crime ends and a chance at childhood begins.

He leaves behind other child prisoners he can't help right now, all hoping it will be their rescue next time.

(voice-over): The Prada Center is just 100 miles from the city jails where they've rescued over 50 children, but a million worlds away. But before Prada can begin to give them back their childhood, they must first deal with their emotional scars.

In a padded, dimly lit room, they're encouraged to let out their anger, sadness and fears from imprisonment. Already, Edwin shows the signs of a deeply troubled child. For each scream, each tear, there is a horrific story.

12-year-old Jamie was cleared of theft after seven months in jail. He told me the adult inmates always asked him for sexual favors. "We were beaten when we refused," he says.

Fiar (ph) was a street kid. He says he ate pig food and the cell flooded when it rained. "I was almost sexually abused," he told me, "but I fought them off."

Until now, these children were too unloved to let their experiences go. Now they also have a chance for a proper education and, more importantly, freedom. There are no prison bars, barbed wire or overcrowded cells.

CULLEN: They stay. These are kids who have been in prison, you'd expect them all to have escaped by now. We took a risk at the beginning. We weren't sure how this would work. But, you know, by just showing them respect, decency, friendship, security, helping them with their court case, getting them out of those filthy dungeons, you know, they have a new start.

ROGERS: But, of course, thousands of children still face another day in a crowded, filthy cell while Edwin builds his first sandcastle. Prada hope our films can be used as evidence to put pressure on the Philippine government and perhaps put the right people behind bars.

Chris Rogers, ITV News, Manila.


CHURCH: We're going to take a break now. When we come back, we'll hear what the Philippine government has to say about the situation.

Do stay with us.


CHURCH: Federal law in the Philippines says children in prisons should be kept separately from adults, but that rule is widely ignored. Officials say there just isn't enough money or space. The jails in Manila are holding an average of six-times their capacity and the courts are so clogged that some prisoners can spend more time in jail waiting for trial then they would serve if they were sentenced.

Earlier Andrew Stevens addressed some of these issues with the Philippine secretary of justice.


RAUL GONZALEZ, PHILIPPINE SECY. OF JUSTICE: We are aware of some of these conditions, but I'm not certain whether the figures that you have are really accurate. At any rate, we are not disputing that there are children in conflict with the laws which are in detention centers.

But I would like to stress to you that in this country, there are four kinds of detention areas. One is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) prisons which houses convicts, and then we have the provincial or city or --

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If I could just interrupt, we do have evidence, picture evidence, of children under 10 years old being locked up. This is the issue. It's against the law for these children to be locked up. They're also facing pedophiles, as I explained. What is the Philippines government doing about it?

GONZALEZ: We have laws to this effect, but you know, in this country children who are less than nine years old, under law, are not being placed in detention. They're placed under the custody of the parents.

Our problem here is also the fact that some parents are nowhere in taking care of these children. We are supposed to have these children under the care of the Department of Social Welfare, but I don't know how many of them are within the control of the Department of Social Welfare in the same manner that I do not know exactly the number of women placed in --

STEVENS: But there are thousands of children who are --


GONZALEZ: Yes, I know, you are speaking about children. I'm just giving you an example.

STEVENS: You acknowledge the problem, Secretary, but my question to you is, you have acknowledged the problem, how are you going to save these children? How are you going to deal with this issue?

GONZALEZ: We are dealing with this issue, sir, little by little, because you have to admit, the fact that we lack detention areas and we cannot totally segregate the youthful offenders or children who conflict with the law from the older people, but this normally happens only in the detention cells of the police departments, not in the national government run detention centers or prisons.

STEVENS: But it is, as you say, it is a problem. Looking at what you say, you are dealing with it little by little. Should this not be a priority for your government? These are children we're talking about.

GONZALEZ: Well, the government has a lot of priorities. We are aware of the fact that the economy is not very good. There are plenty of problems in the economy itself. We are running on a deficit budget.

STEVENS: So you're saying that you can't afford to tackle this problem?

GONZALEZ: At this point, as I said, we have to tackle this in small doses, not in one full sweep. I was telling you that many of these children are detained children who are caught stealing, caught doing drugs, caught with some criminal acts, et cetera, and before they are brought to court for trial, they must be detained in the police stations.


STEVENS: This story showed that these children are not being detained in police stations. They are being detained in jails, in prisons.

GONZALEZ: That's correct, because there are municipal jails. These are not run by the national government but they are run by the cities and the provinces.

STEVENS: So there is nothing you can do about this?

GONZALEZ: Well, it's in the jurisdiction of the local government units. We are taking care of the national penitentiaries, which are, for example, right now we have about 18,000 in national penitentiary (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and we have segregated children there.


CHURCH: Gonzales went on to say he had no information on the five- year-old girl named Rose.

We have to take a break. When we return, a look at the lives of children in prisons outside the Philippines.

Do stay with us.



EMMA LE BEAU, JUBILEE ACTION: These children are languishing in prisons with no one fighting for their rights, and we want to give them a voice and make sure that their rights are upheld. We're calling on the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur for children in prison.

CHURCH (voice-over): Childrens' rights groups call on the world body to take the lead in the fight to free up to 1 million children currently held in adult prisons around the globe. Under international law, the line between childhood and adulthood is 18 years old, and many of those who fall below that line are being subjected to execution, disease, violence and sexual abuse.


Welcome back.

We're seen the pictorial evidence of child imprisonment in the Philippines, but the problem does not end there.

Many other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Brazil, Albania and Indonesia, share the shame of subjecting young children to the horrors of adult incarceration.

Harry Smith of ITV News has this report.


HARRY SMITH, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the plight of five-year-old Rose who was found in a Philippines jail which inspired the campaign to free the country's child prisoners, but around the world thousands more tonight are behind bars.

UNICEF says up to a million children are held in adult prisons in some on the 192 countries which have signed up to an international agreement outlawing such practices.

JULIA POWELL, UNICEF: UNICEF is actually lobbying for governments around the world to comply with the convention on the rights of the child. We are deeply distressed that even though most every country has signed up to it, that they are falling far short of their responsibilities.

SMITH: I took a copy of the ITV News report to the Philippines embassy in London, where the deputy ambassador had agreed to be interviewed, and after learning of its content, she declined to say anything other than this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. I shall transmit this to the proper authorities in Manila.

SMITH (on camera): The report also claims that in Pakistan children as young as 12 can be executed. Children in Albania were found in cells with no toilets and forced to sleep in their own feces. Brazilian prisons are described as overcrowded, filthy and violent, with contagious diseases left untreated. In Burundi, children are left to die with no proper medical care or sanitation. And in Indonesia, eight-year-olds can be tried in adult courts.

LE BEAU: These children are languishing in prisons with no one fighting for their rights, and we want to give them a voice and make sure that their rights are upheld. We're calling on the United Nations to appoint a special rapporteur for children in prison.

SMITH: The United Nations said tonight it would welcome anything which helped focus on the rights of children.

Harry Smith, ITV News.


CHURCH: Well, the disturbing pictures of diseased children subjected to sexual predators in the confines of an adult prison are haunting enough, but the lack of international action on this issue has many organizations deeply distressed. UNICEF is one of them.

Joining us from the United Nations is Alex Yuster, UNICEF juvenile justice expert.

Thank you so much for being with us.

As we have heard in the program, the Philippine government, it doesn't dispute that these children are being imprisoned. It may question the figures. But why has there not been the pressure from the international community for that government to do something about this?

ALEX YUSTER, UNICEF: Well, Rosemary, there has been pressure, not only for the Philippines but for countries around the world to take action and to comply with their obligations under the convention on the rights of the child.

We know that the Philippines government is indeed trying to take some action, including trying to get a good idea of the numbers of children who are truly behind bars there.

CHURCH: But is that enough? We're still looking at 20,000 children.

YUSTER: Well, of course that's only the first step, and around the world, as you can see, in the Philippines and in the other countries, as your report showed, there are many hundreds of thousands of children behind bars and kids simply don't belong in prison.

There are many steps that can be taken and many governments are taking them. For example, to begin to develop alternatives to detention so that children who commit petty crimes are not actually imprisoned and those who commit no crime at all aren't arrested and brought into the criminal justice system.

CHURCH: Some of these countries have signed on to the U.N. convention on the rights of the child. There don't seem to be any consequences for ignoring that convention and indeed their very own legislation.

YUSTER: Many countries are still in the process of adapting their legislation to the convention, and so that also remains an obstacle for many, but countries do report on the convention regularly and what's most important, that information gets back to the countries in civil society groups, like the ones who helped to make that film and to release that report, are able to use that information to lobby for pressure and to get those laws passed and to get them implemented.

CHURCH: Up to a million children worldwide imprisoned. Which countries are the worst offenders?

YUSTER: Well, Rosemary, because the statistics are so hard to come by, it's hard to say which countries have the highest numbers.

CHURCH: Why are we tiptoeing around this?

YUSTER: I think our concern is to get more and more countries to be taking action to reduce the number of children in prison in the first place, to change their laws and to take steps to make a difference.

CHURCH: When does the talk stop, though, and when does the action begin?

YUSTER: Rosemary, there are many things that are happening now. There are -- first of all, seeing these reports being made and being brought to public attention will help to bring more pressure on countries and so we're glad to see CNN and ITV making these reports and bringing this out to public attention.

But all of us, we need more attention to the issue from everyone, including from the public, public pressure in the countries. Many people come to believe that children are dangerous, that children are causing these crimes. We need to make clear that the vast majority of children in prison have committed no crime at all or have committed very minor crimes. Only with public pressure in these countries can something be done about it.

CHURCH: All right, Alex Yuster, thank you so much for talking with us.

And that's it for this edition of INSIGHT. I'm Rosemary Church, the news continues.



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