Saving and healing the jailed children of poverty

October 31, 2014

by Father Shay Cullen

Ricardo, 13, was squatting at the corner of an overcrowded cell, his head was resting on his knees and his hands covered his head. He was hiding his child-like face. It was a defensive posture for self-protection. He was a youth prisoner without being charged and with no credible evidence against him. He was wrongfully accused of stealing money.

That was not his biggest problem. It was how to save himself from being raped again by the 17- and 18-year olds and the bigger men who were allowed into the cell at night. He was taken out at night and brought to an adult cell nearby and raped there. He was kicked and beaten if he fought back against it. He was overpowered and gang raped.

He cried most of the day and cried out most of the night. His life was a misery. He had lost all hope. He seldom ate the handful of dirty rice and spoonful of vegetables handed him in a plastic bag. Apparently this is considered normal by the authorities and they know or think nothing about the harm it does to the youth. The children will become angry and rebellious to authority and untrusting of adults and will want to get revenge on their jailers and abusers.


There they languished in utter boredom as prisoners behind bars and unjustly made to wear the stigma of a criminal youth. They are vulnerable to abuse and bullying and are totally powerless to change their lives or get justice. Their voice will never be heard, their pain never felt, their fear and insecurity remains unknown.

They are the forgotten children of poverty coming from intolerable slums and deprivation and having been conditioned all their lives to accept that they were “good for nothing,” “better off to be dead,” or may have heard from their own parents, “I wish you were never born.” They are the children from the negative view of life, the red platform of negativity as explained by the inspirational writer and speaker Declan Coyle in his book “The Green Platform.”

Ricardo was found and saved with many other youths in similar circumstances by Preda Foundation social workers and brought to the Preda home for children where he is recovering with therapy and care from his life-shattering traumatic experiences.

Thousands of young children are locked up every year in similar conditions around the Philippines. Preda Foundation is campaigning to have the government officials to respect and obey the law. It seems to be having some impact.

A few weeks ago a delegation of local government officials in charge of youth in conflict with the law in their respective municipalities throughout the Philippines came to visit the Preda New Dawn Home for Boys in Castillejos, Zambales. They were ordered by the office of the Secretary of Interior and Local government to go on a orientation tour of non-government-run centers looking for best practices in the care of children suspected of having violated the law that can be replicated in their respective cities and municipalities.

Preda executive director Francis Bermido showed them around the Mediterranean-style villa that is a beautiful, happy home and education and therapy center for as many as 40 boys ages nine to 16. They freely choose to stay there of their own free will and could easily leave if they wanted. There are no gates, guards, fences or punishment of any kind at the home.

The holistic multi-discipline recovery program of life at the center was explained to the delegation of local government officials and they met several of the 16 Preda professional staff that care for the children in the home. Giving respect, dignity, affirmation, encouragement and positive “green platform” support is the best education and therapy they could have. We hope the visitors learned that this is what the children deserve and are entitled to by law. This is what we learn from living on the “Green Platform of Life.”

Besides the hardships of detention centers, the majority of boys at the Preda open center are from broken homes. Children of broken unstable homes have many psychological problems even if they have never been detainees. Most have been abandoned by their fathers and a young boy growing up without the support, role model and good example of a loving father from early childhood will surely develop a deep identity crises and carry feelings of deprivation and unsatisfied needs into adulthood. He may become demanding and emotionally unstable and project his anger at those who care for him.

Permanent relationships will be difficult to achieve and it will be a struggle to overcome urges and drives for self-satisfaction and exclusive attention-seeking. So it is with the boys at the Preda Home. It will be a challenge that helpers, therapists and social workers must meet with patience and understanding. In such cases there is much healing needed.

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