When Pope Francis arrives in the Philippines tomorrow for a five-day visit, one thing he will be guaranteed not to see are the poor orphaned and homeless children of the Manila streets.
That's because hundreds of street kids have been rounded up by police and confined in cages, chained to poles and exposed to beatings and abuse by adult prison inmates, all without any recourse to the legal system, so Pope Francis won't be bothered by the ragged, hungry children as he drives by, the London Daily Mail reports.
Father Shay Cullen, who operates the Preda Foundation which works to rescue street children, termed the childrens' brutal incarceration "a shame on the nation" and told the Daily Mail, "This is completely beneath human dignity and the rights of all the children here are being violated.
"They have no basic rights. There is no education. There is no entertainment. There is no proper human development. There is nowhere to eat and they sleep on a concrete floor. There is no proper judicial process.
"These kids are totally without protection. They have no legal representation. They are just put in jail and left to fend for themselves."
Rosalinda Orobia, head of the Pasay District Social Welfare Department, told the Manila Standard
that the roundups are to protect the Pope from begging by gangs of street kids.
She said, "They know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that."
"There is no question that children should be kept off the streets, but a campaign to do so just for the duration of a dignitary's visit helps nobody except the officials who want to put on a show and pretend all is well in our cities," Catherine Scerri of the street children charity Bahay Tuluyan told the Daily Mail.
"It happened before President Obama's visit to the Philippines in April last year," she told the Mail. "When we tried to have them released, we were told they couldn't come out until after Obama had gone."
The children, Scerri said, are poorly fed, forced to sleep on concrete floors, denied visits by priests or care workers and made to use buckets for toilets.
Father Shay termed it "most important" for Pope Francis to address the issue in the Philippines in an attempt to force local authorities to help these children.
He said he wants to stop the "illegal arrest and detention of young children by police and local government officials and incarcerating them in horrific detention centers," he wrote on his website.
"Many children, some as young as 8 years old, are held behind bars with older prisoners and many are sexually abused. They suffer trauma and unimaginable stress and anxiety," he wrote.
Pope Francis will bring a message
of "mercy and compassion" while visiting the Philippines, and will meet with President Benigno S. Aquino, preside over several Masses and bless the Pope Francis Center for the Poor in Palo, the church website states.
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