Chris Rogers - Investigative Journalist
The shocking report by ITV News exposed the tragedy of Kids Behind Bars and launched our campaign to bring change. Reporter Chris Rogers reveals what he discovered when he returned to the Philippines six months later.
Chris Rogers with Edwin and the prison warden on
the day the 13-year old youth was released.The images of hundreds of Philippine child prisoners held in horrendously overcrowded jails sent shock waves around the globe and forced the Government to promise swift action. The pressure intensified when I was summoned before the US Congress at a Hearing organised by Jubilee Campaign in Washington to testify on what I had seen first hand. Six months later, I returned to the Philippines to see what had changed – only to discover another scandal. Prison cell after prison cell of broken lives and broken promises. We found young faces still behind bars, hungry, exhausted and terrified. We uncovered the ongoing abuse. In one jail, the warden told us he was ordered to separate children from adult inmates but a tiny crammed cell was the only alternative. He said he hates his job. The children were stacked like farm animals on to shelves three storeys high. There wasn’t enough room to stand up and even sitting down they had to crouch. As I handed out food, I felt like I was feeding caged animals. I spotted 13-year old Carlo. Last year we filmed him in another jail, but he’d been released after three months. Now he’s behind bars once again, this time accused of stealing a bucket of fish. He told me the children are allowed out of the cell to exercise for just one hour a week.
As we walked through another prison, the number of young hands reaching out to me was overwhelming. We met 12 year old Sarah, accused of shoplifting. She told me the door to the female cell is left open and male prisoners have harassed her. It would cost her parents a month’s wages to bail her out. But on another day I visited Fr Shay Cullen and met Edwin. Once written off as street vermin and thrown into a college of crime, Edwin can now read, write and use a computer for the first time in his 13-year old life. He’s also learning to come to terms with his tormented past. We tracked down Edwin’s home in a Manila slum and took him back to the streets where the police had arrested him and hit him over the head with their guns. That was nine months ago and he hadn’t seen his family since. I have filmed hundreds of children in Philippine jails now but when I saw Edwin run into his mother’s arms, it suddenly occurred to me that each of them has a family they’ve been snatched from and only a life saturated in poverty to return to. Without the care of Jubilee Action’s partner, Fr Shay Cullen, and the Preda Centre, Edwin faced an endless cycle of poverty and imprisonment. Edwin is a symbol of abuse and freedom. A child of hope and courage. His plight should shame a government that despite so many promises, continue to lock thousands of children behind bars. The shocking report by ITV News exposed the tragedy of Kids Behind Bars and launched our campaign to bring change.