Home Commentary Torture and abuse of children in jails

Torture and abuse of children in jails

Children continue to be jailed, abused, and tortured in prisons and detention centers in many parts of Asia

The unpleasant truths about the torture and abuse of children behind bars are the truths that may not set us free from guilt, apathy, and indifference.

It is not only in the Philippines’ Bahay Pag-Asa, youth detention jails, that children and youth are maltreated and abused in detention but also in many countries.

Treating youth as criminals has a life-long traumatic impact on them.

One thing for sure is the loss of trust and respect for the adult world of authority that allows them to be abused. As the saying goes, “Abuse a child and you make an enemy.”



In Cambodia, Kak Sovann Chhay, an autistic 16-year-old Cambodian teenager following the human rights activism of his jailed father, was jailed.

Kak Sovann Chhay sent a message on Telegram to government supporters who were considered insulting to government officials. The police broke into his house without a warrant. He was handcuffed, arrested, beaten and jailed in the adult jail of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. His mother is not allowed to visit him.

A lawyer has and reports squalid conditions not fit for an animal. UN officials have been alerted and expressed urgent concern for violations of his human rights. He is facing two years in jail in the notorious sub-human conditions of a Cambodian prison.

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In the United States, The Annie E. Casey Foundation released in June 2015 a report on the abuse of minors in detention.

In the summary, it said: “This report, released as a follow-up to No Place for Kids, introduces new evidence on the widespread maltreatment of youth in state-funded juvenile corrections facilities. It tells of high rates of sexual victimization, the heavy-handed use of disciplinary isolation and a growing roster of states where confined youth have been subject to widespread abuse. The four-year update is in — and the news on violence in juvenile detention centers is not good.”

They are correct. Jail is no place for kids. If youth are rebellious, it is because they are unloved and abused by parents or society. They are born innocent. How come they become angry, young people?

Sixteen-year-old Jun (not his real name) was born in Negros Occidental province in the Philippines. His parents broke up and his father left for Manila. His mother lived with a stepfather and he was abusive and beat Jun repeatedly. When he continued to be abused, Jun ran away.

He got a free trip on a boat to Manila and tried to find his father but failed. He met a friendly family and Jun was given a job as an occasional motorcycle driver in the area. On one trip, the passenger insisted in being brought to a far place. Jun was stopped by police and arrested for not having a driving license. He was also charged with stealing the motorbike for he did not have papers for it. The owner came to get it but Jun was jailed in the Bahay Pag-asa, a youth detention center. A criminal case was filed against him.

Children are imprisoned with their mothers up to age three in Cambodian jails. (shutterstock.com photo)

The detention center was for him a hellhole of abuse, neglect and violence. He slept on the concrete floor, given bad-tasting expired food. He was forced to clean the filthy toilet, wash the clothes of the other bigger boys and suffered severe violence and abuse. He was the cell slave.

He was forced to hang on the bars and they beat him while he hung there. The government social workers and guards ignored all this. On his birthday, he had a horrible traumatic experience. The other youth prisoners covered him with a blanket and beat, punched and kicked him until he collapsed and was almost unconscious. No one would help him in the detention jail for almost a year.

Jun was lucky to be arrested and not to have been shot dead. As many as 122 children and teenagers have been shot dead by police in the government’s “war on drugs.”

According to a report by the World Organization Against Torture, the police admit to killing as many as 7,000 suspects more or less, saying the suspects “fought back” and “resisted.” But the children were targets also, some executed, some caught in the cross-fire, the police said.

On July 27, 2020, the prosecutor dismissed the case against Jun and ordered his release. He had no family to take him and the detention jail authorities would not release him. It was unlawful detention. Preda social workers heard about Jun in the prison cell — hungry, malnourished, bruised and beaten. He dared tell no one. They completed the legal documentation for his transfer to Preda Home for Boys. The Preda New Dawn Home is a government-accredited care home for youth like Jun.

He was then transferred to Preda. He ate lots of good food, played basketball, found friends and has now started his studies, learning to read and write. He found freedom, acceptance, affirmation and respect. Jun is undertaking vocational training, learning welding and electrical appliance repair and he loves to help on the farm. He has therapy and counseling to help deal with his inner traumatic emotional hurt and pain.

The Preda social worker was able to locate his biological father in Manila and his mother in Negros Occidental. It is a dream come true for Jun. He can talk to them by phone. Soon, he will be reintegrated to his biological father and so he will have a happier life.

Not all such cases turn out for the best. Small kids as young as 10 and 12 have been jailed in youth jails also and they too have been sexually abused and tortured. Preda called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the abuse suffered by the children rescued by Preda social workers.

They interviewed the children and confirmed the torture and abuse. The children described what they suffered through drawings.

We need government officials everywhere to grow a conscience and do their duty to protect children in homes, not in jails, and never allow torture and sexual abuse. What greater supporters do the children have than Jesus of Nazareth who said children are the most important in the world (Matt.18:1-7) and their abusers and enablers must be brought to justice. That is everyone’s duty and responsibility.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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