- Street children in Manila were rounded up before the Pope’s arrival
- Officials claimed it was to stop gangs of beggars targeting the Pope
- But critics say it is a cynical move breaching the children’s human rights
- MailOnline investigation finds horrendous conditions at the centres
- Children forced to sleep on floors and kept with adults who beat them
- Some children have been starved and chained to pillars in the centres
- One child rounded up 59 times – yet he is still living on the streets
Street children as young as five were caged in brutal detention centres alongside adult criminals in a cynical drive to smarten up the Philippines capital ahead of a visit by Pope Francis this week.
Hundreds of boys and girls were rounded up from doorways and roadsides by police and officials and put behind bars in recent weeks to make the poverty-racked city more presentable when Pope Francis arrived, a MailOnline investigation found.
Rosalinda Orobia, head of Social Welfare Department in Manila’s central Pasay district, claimed the round-ups had been conducted to protect the Pope from being targeted by gangs of begging street children.
Orobia told the Manila Standard newspaper the syndicates ‘know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that.’
MailOnline found dozens of street children locked up in appalling conditions alongside adult criminals in Manila, where a senior official admitted there had been an intensive round-up by police and government workers to make sure they are not seen by Pope Francis.
“We gained rare access to a detention centre by accompanying Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, 71, as he freed a boy aged around seven, and took him to his Preda Foundation shelter for children 100 miles away in Subic Bay.” said MailOnline spokesman Simon Parry.
Mak-Mak, whose legs and body were riddled with scabies, was picked up three weeks ago and spent Christmas and the New Year in a concrete pen at the centre, hidden away in the slums of Manila’s Paranaque district which –with grotesque irony – is named House of Hope.
There, guiltless children are kept behind bars, made to go to the toilet in buckets and fed leftovers which they eat from the floor. There is no schooling or entertainment for the youngsters who are held sometimes for months before being freed.
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.’
In a blatant abuse of the country’s own child protection laws, the terrified children are locked up in filthy detention centres where they sleep on concrete floors.
A MailOnline investigation uncovered the horrendous conditions the children are kept in, with many of them beaten, or tied to poles. This picture of a starving 11-year-old led to protests against the centres – but nothing has changed.
The Pope did make an unscheduled visit to a foundation that takes care of former street children, a surprising move made by the pontiff after his mass at the Manila Cathedral.
During his message to Filipino families gathered at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena, Pope Francis said that the ANAK-TnK foundation for street children which he visited captures the Christian meaning of family.
“I was very moved after the mass today, when I visited that shelter and home for children with no parents. How many people in the church worked so that house becomes a home. This is what it means to forward prophetically the meaning of the family,” the pope said in Spanish and was translated by an interpreter.
During his allocution in the “Meeting of Families”, the supreme pontiff emphasized the need for families to help the less fortunate.
“I would ask you, as families, to be especially mindful of our call to be missionary disciples of Jesus. This means being ready to go beyond your homes and to care for our brothers and sisters who are most in need,” he said.
Pope Francis also reiterated that it is the responsibility of the faithful to not let the poor feel they have been abandoned.
Excerpts from Sources below: