Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 21, 2007
Philippine children caged, used as sex slaves, says priest
Cullen has worked 40 years protecting nations children
By BILL GLEN
"You don't need to put kids behind bars."
- Fr. Shay Cullen
Where can the children be relocated?
Cullen has worked in the Philippines for nearly 40 years defending children from an unjust penal system and sexual predators.
He runs PREDA, a rehabilitation centre for street children in Olopango, a coastal city in west-central Philippines. The foundation, which stands for People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance, runs community homes for young girls and boys. But they are filled to capacity.
The Irish priest, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, was in Edmonton recently, on his way to Wainwright where students at Blessed Sacrament (K-12) School helped raise some $10,000.
The money, raised during the school's 2006 Advent project, will go directly towards the foundation's latest initiative - the Preda Boy's Home.
George Bunz says it's important for students to learn about the issues of poverty and the interconnectedness of the human family.
"Love and caring for each other has no boundaries, and helping one another where help is needed and requested is inherent in being a Christ-centred school," said Bunz, former superintendent of East Central Catholic School Division.
Bunz is involved with Rainbow of Hope for Children, a non-government organization founded in 1975 by Hank and Tillie Zyp. The NGO's association with PREDA dates back to 2001 when it funded the professional training of 10 young Filipino actors in the use of theatre to get their message of social injustice out.
It paid the way for Cullen and the youth troupe to tour Western Canada, where they performed 30 venues.
"When (Father) Shay emailed me about the need for a (boy's) home to provide shelter and therapy for children freed from adult prisons, I discussed it with the social justice committee, and the school dedicated their Advent project to the cause," Bunz said.
- - photo supplied
A woman and young child pick through a garbage dump in the Philippines.
There are so many children and we can't turn any of them away, says Cullen. The foundation provides an alternative to jail, with homes without guards or punishment.
"You don't need to put kids behind bars. We have no gates or fences. It's open and free. They can leave tomorrow if they want," Cullen said.
At more than 2,000 square metres, the two-storey residential community centre will accommodate 100 boys. The total cost for land and building is just over US$800,000. The foundation is about halfway towards its goal.
The centre will include dorms, classrooms and special lab areas. The boys will learn a basic curriculum as many of them are illiterate, Cullen said. They will learn a trade like welding and subsistence farming.
"We have affirmation, education, support and friendship. They have a sense of family and receive good food. They get the basics of life - what they might not have ever had before," he said. "PREDA is providing homes, so there is no excuse for getting children out of jail."
Cullen estimates that as many as 200,000 children in the Philippines are involved in prostitution. Despite the campaign against child sexual abuse and the conviction of some high-ranking pedophiles, children are still being used as sex objects by local and foreign predators.
"We (PREDA) have a community-based education program on human rights which is alerting parents where to go and their rights to file charges against the abuser. Of course, they are afraid and if the abuser is in some way politically connected or wealthy, they are intimidated," Cullen said.
With the explosion of the Internet, Cullen says the problem is as bad as ever. "We are combatting the practice of some local officials who arrange a deal with pedophiles. They tell them compensation can be made to the poor child and their families and no charges will be filed. "It's just a pay-off. It's ridiculous, because they'll be back in a few days."
Within a minute, a pedophile with a digital movie camera can grab a child, turn into a dark area and make a film while performing a sexual act. The movie is then uploaded onto the Internet to various sites known to other sexual abusers.
PREDA has been diligent in bringing dozens of pedophiles to justice.
For more information, visit PREDA's website at www.preda.org.
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