This week I went with the Preda legal team and social workers to the Skyline Videoke Bar to conduct an undercover surveillance and see for myself the truth of the report that children as young as 13 were for sale as sex partners. We found it was true. The place was in a quite rural side road a short convenient walk from the Hall of Justice, a police outpost and government offices in Iba the Provincial Capital of Zambales. A week before a 14 year-old had been attacked and raped by some men when she stepped outside the bar. She was traumatized and taken to the hospital and later brought to the Preda Children's Home. Her six friends, the youngest 13, were still trapped and forced to work as prostitutes in the bar. They had been brought from Metro Manila and threatened with violence if they left without paying their debts. The national police took three weeks to act on our report and mysteriously the children had disappeared when they eventually raided the sex club. They took three young girls into care. Was there a tip-off? It was later reported that a senior police officer owned and operated the sex bar. There is little chance of a successful prosecution. Police know it's happening but seldom investigate unless they get a formal complaint. How can the victims tell the police they have been trafficked and forced into prostitution? Police everywhere have to be proactive, to go undercover, search and find them and save these young people just as charity workers try to do. Near the rural town of Hermosa, in the province of Bataan we were called by the aunt of a 13 year old child to investigate and rescue her niece from the Young Angel sex bar. When we got there she too had disappeared. The bar is reportedly owned by a police officer too. Then there is the case of Rowel, just rescued from 11 months detention inside the children's prison named ironically Cradle, in Bicutan Military camp south of Manila. This is a four floor building, with a double row of bars with approximately 150 young teenagers inside. Rowel has not been convicted but is just 16 and is still on trial. He has served twice the maximum jail time he could have got if found guilty of stealing scrap metal worth 2500, or Euro 40 (GB Pounds 28). Being a minor he ought to be sent to a rehabilitation center or do community service as the law directs. The judge released him to the Preda Boys Home when informed of his plight. Prosecutors should go after the child rapists and killers instead of 16 year old children who collected scrap metal for recycling. In Baguio City, a newspaper report by Vincent Cabreza quotes city official saying that criminal syndicates are recruiting teenagers below 18 to commit crimes because they are free from criminal liability. Acting Mayor Daniel Farinas is quoted as saying that the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act (R.A. 9344) does not work in the city and should be repealed because the youth think they immune prosecution. How very wrong they are. In reality it is some police and military that commit crimes with impunity; trafficking of children, bribe taking, robberies, drug pushing and assassinations and much much more. The law says the city should have a rehabilitation home, alternative interventions and not a prison for young offenders. Young people can hardly be blamed if they rebel and turn against authority figures when they are treated unjustly, abused, rejected and brutalized. The city will reap what it sows and the nation too. They should go after the criminal syndicates that are corrupting the youth and recruiting them to join criminal gangs. News reports have revealed that police themselves are protecting criminals. The kids are victims and ought to be protected from bad influence and temptations not jailed. If the city trained the out-of-school youth, gave them jobs, cut back on the pornography and violent video games in the internet shops and put the drug pedlars on trial then the youth will have a chance for a good future. END Fr Shay Cullen is a Columban parish priest working in the Philippines. He also runs the Preda Centre in Olongapo City. For more information see: http://www.preda.org
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