The ‘Judges for Justice’ that save the children

By Fr. Shay Cullen 

The hard work of many dedicated social workers, good-hearted judges, and compassionate Philippine government officials are helping hundreds of children in conflict with the law (CICL) to find a new, better life in the Preda homes for boys. The family court judges also protect child victims of sexual abuse from their abusers by referring them to the Preda homes for child victims until justice is done and seen to be done.

Many hundreds of CICL have been freed by caring judges and social workers. The youth have been saved from the suffering and deprivation endured when locked in government detention cells, languishing and suffering mental health problems, awaiting justice that sometimes never comes.

The church personnel need to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth and engage more in social action for justice, helping victims of sexual abuse and injustice, and they should be doing more in protecting human rights and serving the victims of torture and neglect.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law is designed to prevent all that abuse and deprivation and is supposed to protect the dignity and rights of children. Instead, many are jailed like criminals.

Good wise judges are now freeing children be free that are locked up for months or years in the jail cells of Bahay Pag-asa or youth detention centers in sub-human conditions. The youth think that they are criminals and that is likely what they will become.

Children-at-risk (CAR) are below 15 years old and cannot be charged with a crime but are nevertheless locked up in child care centers by the government authorities that are much like a detention center also. They must be released to a loving, caring home that respects their rights. Jesus of Nazareth said children are the most important of all (Matthew Ch.18) This is what the good “Judges for Justice” are now doing- saving the children, not punishing them.

Most CICL are uneducated and struggle daily to survive in dangerous, disease-ridden slums and avoid being caught in a hail of gunfire from the murderous death squads. Many poor people and youth are so traumatized by the wanton violence that they reach for more illegal tranquilizer drugs to ease fear, hardship, hunger and despair.

Good judges understand this and are compassionate and kind. They also understand the trauma suffered by child victims of sexual abuse and how hard it is for them to disclose the abuse they suffered. They believe the testimony of the children and give them justice and healing.

Among these deprived children, imagine the life story of a boy named Enrico. He is typical of the thousands of street youth that scavenge and collect junk to sell for recycling so they can eat a handful of rice. At 15, Enrico was surviving dire poverty living in a shack made from cardboard and plastic sheeting without toilet, water or electricity. He lived in misery and want with sick parents.

Enrico was a street child. He wanted to go to school, to learn to read and write, to eat a full meal, to sleep in a bed. He wanted to have friends and be respected by society. These were his dreams. He collected scraps of metal to sell and buy a meal of “pag-pag.” That is the re-cooked leftovers scraped from the dinner plates of the rich customers in fine restaurants.

One day, he came across a length of electric cable thrown over a fence from a building site, worth five days of rice and vegetables for his family. He joyfully lifted it into his pushcart and headed for the junk shop. He jumped with fright when he heard a shout, running feet and felt strong hands grabbing him from behind.

“You thieving beggar! Stealing cable is a crime, you will be punished and jailed.” The local community guards had seen him scavenge the discarded cable and they wrongly thought he had stolen it. He was brought to the detention center and thrown in a cell. He was innocent but illegally detained and forgotten. The boys slept on the concrete floor, with thin mats and one dirty smelly toilet and a small space to douse themselves with water from a bucket and faucet.

They suffered beatings and were made cell slaves to serve the guards. One day, social workers from the Preda Foundation came. Preda is a government-accredited organization to care for abused children. The Preda social workers had the court order of a compassionate judge for the transfer of custody of some boys. They were freed from the filthy cell and were brought to a home for CICL, a sanctuary of peace, freedom and healing.

Enrico, Jose and another boy arrived at the Preda home for boys in a beautiful setting where they were free to roam, run and play under the blue sky, set free like birds from a cage. Here, they were treated with respect and care and would find dignity and a new happier life in an open center without guards, fences or walls. They were trusted, respected and persuaded by the professional staff to choose a new life.

The boys carried much childhood hurt and pain inside of not being loved and cared for by their parents, some had been abused as children. They choose to have therapy sessions. In the padded therapy room, they shouted and cried out their anger, hurt and pain during the Emotional Release Therapy. They recovered and were healed as were the other boys. They became young people with values and were determined to succeed in a good life.

If all the cruel detention centers for children could be converted to open homes with professional therapists and not armed guards, if the CICL were treated with kindness and compassion and not punishment, with understanding and goodness instead of cruelty and torture, and the law was not in conflict with them, there would be a great transformation of the youth of the Philippines.

If only more judges and local government officials could be more compassionate and be determined to heal, not punish the troubled youth, they would respect the rights of the youth and provide educational homes for the CICL where they grow. They would have therapy and respect instead of harsh punishment. They would respect authority figures and receive skills training and self-discipline and spiritual values that they would teach their children.

They would find greater meaning and purpose and embrace a life of dignity and value and the compassionate judges and social workers would be helping and serving and changing the lives of troubled youth for the better. What is needed is compassion, diversion and more direct action for justice and human rights.