Street Children Locked Up

Fr. John Keenan
November 1, 2012

To compound the trauma, the children are herded into sub-human conditions, small children along with big teenagers in an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. Such crammed conditions can spawn all kinds of abuse, introduction to vice and fights among the children. They are only allowed out for half an hour of recreation and for their meals three times a day. The rest of the time they are cooped up inside in the stifling heat. They have no opportunity for study or improving themselves. Sometimes they may be there for over a month or longer before being released by being sent to a children’s home or to their parents or guardians if they can be found. The resident staff does their best to help them and succeed admirably in many cases, but they are hampered by numbers.

The fact is that most of the children should not be there in the fi rst place since they are innocents, the victims of poverty, broken families and neglect both in the city and in the provinces. Instead of being rescued they are being condemned to sub-human conditions. It has been suggested that the barangay officials and police are being rewarded for filling their quota of arrests. The Center is understaffed, and there are not enough social workers to pursue their cases and set them free. They have an impossible job because of the lack of financial and personnel support. RAC is probably one of the better detention centers as compared with similar institutions in other cities in metro Manila and in the provinces. If the community became more aware and helped poor families, paid just wages and made genuinely free education a reality, many of these children would not end up in RAC.

I celebrate Mass in RAC every Sunday morning, which is much appreciated by the children and staff. Before Mass the volunteers give the children religious instruction, and I usually meet them individually. This gives me a chance to get to know them and their backgrounds. They are lovely children. They are simply victims of poverty with broken families, abusive parents, the lack of a decent home with water, electricity and food and no access to education. I feel pity for them and angry at society, the government and the Church, that they are not doing more to respond to these basic human needs. Most have dropped out of school by 10 or so due to lack of food and “pamasahe” (fares for public transport).

Education is supposed to be free, but it isn’t without fees. What hope is there for them? Without education or a livelihood will they end up as prostitutes and criminals? It is very sad indeed.

The RAC staff, who are social workers, are very committed to the welfare of the children and do their best to feed and take care of them on a slim budget, until they fi nd their parents or guardians. I feel that my presence there gives them spiritual and moral support in what could easily be a very depressing job. They are very welcoming and accommodating. Our work there complements what they are trying to do in convincing the children to avoid “barkadas” (groups of peers, in this context with a negative connotation), vices and to go back to school.

Originally Seen in Columban Mission magazine