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.
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.
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