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Oct 19 2019.
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Children CAGED to keep the streets clean for the Pope

EXCLUSIVE - Children CAGED to keep the streets clean for the Pope:

Police round up orphans and chain them in filth during pontiff's visit to Philippines

  • Street children in Manila are being rounded up before the Pope's arrival 
  • Officials claim it is to stop gangs of beggars targeting the Pope
  • But critics say it is a cynical move breaching the children's human rights
  • MailOnline investigation finds horrendous conditions at the centres
  • Children forced to sleep on floors and kept with adults who beat them
  • Some children have been starved and chained to pillars in the centres
  • One child rounded up 59 times - yet he is still living on the streets

Street children as young as five are being caged in brutal detention centres alongside adult criminals in a cynical drive to smarten up the Philippines capital ahead of a visit by Pope Francis this week.

Hundreds of boys and girls have been rounded up from doorways and roadsides by police and officials and put behind bars in recent weeks to make the poverty-racked city more presentable when Pope Francis arrives tomorrow, a MailOnline investigation has found.

In a blatant abuse of the country's own child protection laws, the terrified children are locked up in filthy detention centres where they sleep on concrete floors and where many of them are beaten or abused by older inmates and adult prisoners and, in some cases, starved and chained to pillars.

Six million people are expected to attend an open air mass conducted by Pope Francis in Manila's Rizal Park on Sunday, which will watched by a global TV audience and officials appear determined to ensure that urchins are hidden from view.

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Angel, a 13 year old little girl,clad only in a flimsy dress, was chained toa post in the RAC detention centre late last year and left there crying while the other children were allegedl yencouraged to throw pebbles at her as she screamed in pain and fear 

Other children were allegedly encouraged to throw pebbles at her as she screamed in pain and fear in the detention late last year. Youngsters living in the city's doorways and roadsides are being rounded up despite many having committed no crime

A MailOnline investigation has uncovered the horrendous conditions the children are kept in, with many of them beaten, or tied to poles. This picture of a starving 11-year-old led to protests against the centres - but nothing has changed

The youngsters, who can be kept in the centres for months, are exposed to abuse and exploitation by older children and adults

Father Shay Cullen, who works to rescue the children, says the detention centres where the young street children are kept are 'a shame on the nation' 

MailOnline found dozens of street children locked up in appalling conditions alongside adult criminals in Manila, where a senior official admitted there had been an intensive round-up by police and government workers to make sure they are not seen by Pope Francis. We gained rare access to a detention centre by accompanying Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, 71, as he freed a boy aged around seven and took him to his Preda Foundation shelter for children 100 miles away in Subic Bay.

Mak-Mak, whose legs and body were riddled with scabies, was picked up three weeks ago and spent Christmas and the New Year in a concrete pen at the centre hidden away in the slums of Manila's Paranaque district which –with grotesque irony – is named House of Hope. There, guiltless children are kept behind bars, made to go to the toilet in buckets and fed leftovers which they eat from the floor. There is no schooling or entertainment for the youngsters who are held sometimes for months before being freed.

Adult convicts are kept in a pen next to separate compounds holding boys and girls and freely pass between the pens at certain times of the day, inmates and regular visitors to the centre told us, while officials either ignore or fail to spot abuse and attacks. In poignant scenes, Mak-Mak – an abandoned child with no ID – at first seen frightened but then beamed with delight as charity workers told him he was being taken from his caged pen to children's home in the countryside. 'Are there toys there?' was his first question.

'Rescued' child Mak-Mak's legs and body were covered in scabies, caused by mites burrowing into the skin, when MailOnline first met him at a centre

Mak-Mak, who had no ID, was living on the streets after apparently being abandoned by his parents

The boy, who is thought to be around seven, was initially frightened when charity workers arrived at the centre, ironically called 'House of Hope'

But he beamed with joy after they said they were taking him away to a new home - asking: 'Will there be toys?' 

Father Shay, pictured, said the conditions Mak-Mak was being kept in were 'completely beneath human dignity'

Mak-Mak is one of hundreds of children being kept in these dreadful conditions - but he is lucky, as he has been rescued by charity workers

But, thanks to charity workers, he is now living in a children's home on the coast, 80 miles from the Philippine's capital Manila

 An adult prisoner held with other convicts in a cell directly opposite the pen holding Mak-Mak and the other children, 42-year-old Paulo, said: 'Lots of children have been brought here lately. We're told they're being picked up from under the road bridges where the Pope will travel.'

As a team of charity workers took Mak-Mak to his new home in Subic Bay, an exasperated Father Shay said: 'This boy is only about seven years old and he is behind bars. 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.'

Pope Francis famously washed the feet of inmates in a youth detention centre in Rome in 2013 but Father Shay, who has run a mission to help children in the Philippines for 40 years, said: 'Sadly, there is no way the Pope will be visiting these detention centres in Manila.'They are a shame on the nation. Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the Pope seeing children treated in this way.'

The caging of street children ahead of the Pope's visit comes despite anger in the Philippines late last year over another notorious detention centre – the Manila Reception and Action Centre (RAC) – where a skeletal 11-year-old was pictured lying on the ground, apparently near death.The boy, who shares the Pope's name Francisco, is now recovering at a children's home run by a charity - but protests over his case failed to halt the current round-up or improve conditions at the 17 detention centres across the city, where an estimated 20,000 children a year are detained.

The government has defended the policy in interviews with the local press in Manila

Rosalinda Orobia, head of Social Welfare Department in Manila's central Pasay district, claimed the round-ups had been conducted to protect the Pope from being targeted by gangs of begging street children 

Orobia told the Manila Standard newspaper the syndicates 'know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that'

But the Manila Standard hit back at Orobia, saying the decision to clear the streets of the children only helped officials trying to pretend all was well in the city 

 The noticeable rise in 'rescues' has happened before other big international visits, one charity head revealed - including before President Obama's visit last year

Rosalinda Orobia, head of Social Welfare Department in Manila's central Pasay district, confirmed her officials had for weeks been detaining street children in the areas the Pope will visit and had taken in children as young as five.

Bizarrely, she claimed the operations were aimed at stopping begging syndicates targeting the Pope rather than tidying up the city. 'They (the syndicates) know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that,' she told the Manila Standard newspaper.

In an editorial, the newspaper slammed the official's remarks, saying: 'We should all be scandalized by the government's artificial campaign to keep the streets free of poor children only for the duration of the papal visit.

The visit to Manila comes exactly 20 years after St. John Paul II's visit to the country, and there is great excitement to meet the first non-European Pope - seen here blessing a sick child - for more than 1,300 years

This is Pope Francis' second tour of Asia in six months, but the first time he has visited either Sri Lanka - the first stop on the trip, pictured - or the Philippines

Thousands welcomed the Pope to Columbo, Sri Lanka's capital, and similar scenes are expected in Manila

The Pope arrives in the Philippines for a five day stay tomorrow, after a five-day tour of Sri Lanka

'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, deputy director of street children charity Bahay Tuluyan, told MailOnline workers had remarked on a noticeable rise in the number of 'rescues' of street children by officials in recent weeks because of the Pope's visit.

'More children have been picked up in recent weeks and there has been a pattern of this happening before big international events in the past,' said Ms Scerri, an Australian who has worked for 11 years to improve the lives of Manila's legions of street children.'It happened before President Obama's visit to the Philippines in April last year. When we tried to have them released we were told they couldn't come out until after Obama had gone and the children were very much given the impression that they were rescued because of this visit.'

The children can be kept with adult offenders, which leaves them vulnerable during their time in the centres  

 A study found the children are taken in for sleeping on the street, for begging, or for stealing food to relieve their hunger, with no proper judicial process

A survey by Bahay Tuluyan found the so-called 'rescue' operations to round up street children are indiscriminate, targeting youngsters who have committed no offences and do not want to go to detention centres.Children are taken in simply for sleeping on the street, for begging, or for stealing food to relieve their hunger, with no proper judicial process, and are exposed to abuse and exploitation by older children and adults, the study found.

'There is no reason the shelters (centres) should be like this and what I find soul-destroying is the apathy of the people who work in and around places like RAC and allow this brutality,' said Ms Scerri.'I can understand a lack of resources, but what I find so frustrating is the violence, torture and apathy and the fact that people are standing by and letting this happen. I think that is completely inexcusable.'

Detained children complained of violence, abuse, poor or inadequate food and lack of sanitation. They are given buckets for toilets and deprived of any education or contact with family members, something Ms Scerri said they found 'incredibly distressing'.The practice of locking up street children ahead of major international events in Manila dates back to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Summit of 1996, Ms Scerri said. Children are held for periods ranging from days to months and repeatedly rearrested.

Children are repeatedly 'rescued' from the streets - with one child revealing they had been rounded up 59 times

However, being rescued had not helped the 13-year-old: the young teenager was still on the streets 

There have been protests against the centres, but as yet it has failed to stop the policy 

 Huge preparations are taking place ahead of Pope Francis' visit. Here, a Filipino soldier plays with children as security forces get ready

A child and customer ride a pedi-cab past police as they rehearse security procedures on a road outside the Tacloban airport ahead of the visit

'The RAC and other institutions call these children recidivists even though they have committed no crimes,' she said. 'One child of 13 we interviewed had been 'rescued' 59 times and was back on the street.'

Most people in Manila know nothing about the way children are treated in the detention centres. 'When they find out, they are outraged,' she said. 'People are horrified to find out what the government is doing in their name.'Social workers and child psychologists help heal the psychological scars of the street children taken out of detention centres in the boys' and girls' homes run by Father Shay's Preda Foundation.

In a harrowing interview conducted for MailOnline by a trained child psychologist at a Preda home, a boy called Ben described how – aged just six – he was abandoned by his mother and then picked up by police last year as he slept on the street.He woke up in a police station and then spent three months at the House of Hope detention centre where, in cold detail, he described how he was sexually abused by 10 different inmates. 'I was very unhappy there,' he said quietly. Ben is now seven.

Removing children from the streets is not the only measure being taken ahead of the visit - here a Filipino worker removes dirt next to a poster of Pope Francis in a street in Manila

Pope Francis is expected to ride in 'Jeepney', a popular and uniquely Filipino mode of mass transport (pictured), during the visit

Workers have been busy preparing for the Pope's arrival in the Philippines, the largest predominantly Catholic country in Asia

These workers were spotted grabbing a nap in between getting Manila reading for Pope Francis

Young boys dressed as Swiss Guards rehearse at the steps of the Manila Cathedral in preparation for the arrival of Pope Francis

Workers wrap a statue of Christ at Rizal Park during preparations

Mak-Mak – who had never before been outside the city and was wide-eyed with wonder at the sight of a cow in a field – leapt out of the charity's van and sprinted across a lawn to a rusty set of swings and roundabouts as soon as he arrived at the children's home.After playing happily with other boys for two hours, however, he quickly became tearful and withdrawn when questioned gently by the psychologist about his ordeal on the streets and then in the detention centre.

Like other children lucky enough to be saved from the detention centres where more and more children are being locked up this week, the road to recovery for Make-Mak will be a painfully long one. 'There's an awful lot of trauma there,' said Father Shay.Father Shay is praying Pope Francis will speak out on children's rights during his five-day visit to the Philippines which ends on Sunday, perhaps pricking the conscience of officials in the devout country into taking more care of their unfortunate young.Meanwhile, however, the only prospect of an escape from the hellish conditions behind bars for countless children will come when the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church – shielded from their suffering – flies back to Rome next Monday. (JAN 19th)

· More information about the missions to help street children in Manila by the Preda Foundation and Bahay Tuluyan are available at www.preda.org and www.bahaytuluyan.org   

An enterprising salesman sells Pope-themed t-shirts at Rizal Park in Manila this week

Pope Francis - who has developed a reputation for humilty - called for reconciliation while he was in Sri Lanka

The Pope has also used his offical Twitter account, @pontifax, to call on Catholics around the world to pray for the two countries during his visit

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