The most important of all

By Fr. Shay Cullen
PREDA Foundation

There is one day of the year set aside to remind us of the horrible painful truth that there are millions of children around the world working in the fields, factories, brick kilns, construction sites and sex clubs. The clothes we wear, if made in a poor developing nation, are likely to have been made with some form of child labor. The millions of single men on sex tours abuse working children to satisfy their perverted sexual fantasies; it’s a cruel world of exploitation of those declared to be the most important of all in God’s family and equal to Jesus of Nazareth.

Preda Fair Trade organization has campaigned for years to free children from the worst forms of child labor like unpaid slaves in sex bars and clubs. They are in the most hazardous situations where they have to dress in bikinis, pole-dance, be groped, laughed at, molested and be exposed to life threatening diseases and even physical assault. In many bars, they are sold to highest paying sex tourist.

Beth-ann was given by her father to a distant relative when she was 12 years old and she was never sent to school. Instead, she was turned over to the Mamasan of a sex hotel and brought up there as a sex object for local and foreign men. When rescued by the age of 15 by the Preda social workers, she had the mentality of a 9 year-old, illiterate and unable to relate to adults having been a sex object for most of her life. There are thousands like her in many countries.

She is slowly recovering and trying to live a normal life outside of the sex bar and bravely learning to read and write and finding a new set of behaviors and values. There are thousands like her who are still slaves, working in sex bars with the connivance and licensing approval of local government officials who benefit from the sex industry themselves and frequently are hotel or bar owners.

Child labor is, in most situations, the evidence of extreme poverty and exploitation of the poor and the marginalized people. The children are offered jobs as domestic helpers in the city, a down payment is made to the parents in a remote village and the children are carried off to the sex bar or brothel. Another destructive form of so called sex-work for young teenagers is making pornography. Their images are sold live on the internet for pedophiles to view them. It’s a billion dollar business and the children are the work force.

How is it that until 1989, child labor was generally accepted as necessary, desirable even and it took thousands of years for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to be written and passed. I was a delegate to the drafting conference in Helsinki. Then Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labor was written and passed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and passed as international law by the United Nations in 1999. I marched through Geneva to lobby the ILO to pass Convention 182. It bans the worst forms of child labor. However, it is still being violated around the world. Millions of children are unschooled and work in every kind of labor situation to help their families survive.

How is it that children have been held in work bondage for thousands of years and forced to work and be sexually abused. What has been forgotten are the extraordinary statements and acts of Jesus of Nazareth in regard to children. When asked who is the most important in the Kingdom of God, Jesus placed a child in front of them and said a child is the most important of all. He gave them the inalienable right and place of greatest importance in God’s family.

“The most important in the Kingdom is this child”, he told his followers. “To accept one of them is to accept me”, he said. What an extraordinary declaration made at a time when children were considered the property of parents and as non-persons with no rights and only part of the work force. The Church did not oppose it or declare it as intrinsically wrong or have a dogma about it, despite the practice of child labor being a direct contradiction of the Gospel values and of Jesus himself.

Children were number one in Christianity at the beginning, until the institutionalization of Christianity that is. It took secular society in 1989 and 1999 to recognize the inalienable rights of the child. Sadly, it was not the Church who advocated and established in international law, these rights of the child. Instead, it has a nasty history of child abuse, a contradiction of the teachings of its founder. It is now that Pope Francis and enlightened church leaders and child rights advocates are vigorously undoing that past and trying to make amends for that most unjust and abusive past.

We were all children once and may have memories (or suppressed memories), of childhood hardships, drudgery, hard work and even abuse. We can be happy that we have survived and we can understand more easily the suffering and plight of the millions of children who continue to suffer abuse, illiteracy and life of hard labor. They may not survive. This we can prevent and undo.

We must draw on the spirit of truth and empowerment and be prophetic, missionary, active in speaking out and defending children and promoting their rights. They are the most important in God’s kingdom, (Matt.18.1 -5, Mark 9.33-37, Luke 9.46-48) and have a place of honor that must never be taken away from them. [,]

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

3 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Carlos S. Padilla says:

    I am interested to know more about PREDA Foundation.

  2. carl abella says:

    There must be an organization that we can trust and believe. instead we have outside(PR) organization that help our children. With all the outside workers/immigrants from all over the world if we can help …then lets us know..there are thousand if not hundred of U.s groups who year after year go home and try to change some of the children life. please let inform them how they can help..SOON…before.???

  3. Jose Samilin says:

    Great damaged happened to this country in their failures on governance and misguided financial support on basic industry and human services for the basic needs of the people since we become an independent nation from the time of first president of the Philippines. Why are we now having shortage of labor and there is a need for he household to top the children for labor force when these children are supposeto be in the school? What has gone wrong to our management of our resources where the Philippines is suppose to be rich in natural resources? These children are suppose to be in the school and not use as labors. The basic answer to this question is the lack of earning of parents to support the basic needs of the decent family living. Why did it happened to be like this when we have vast areas of lands that are suitable to grow agricultural production. Now we are going back to what has the government have been doing wrong to our agriculture industry which is more that 50% of land areas are supposed to be devoted for agricultural production, which could be more than enough to support the entire population of about 100 millions Filipinos. That is where the great failure of our government since the time we gained our independence from colonial powers. The government failed to recognize that the Philippines is an agricultural country, not industrial. I do not mean that we do not need any more factories and industries. I am just saying, because of government leadership sense of greed in materials and powers, had long been forgotten the basic needs of the majority population of the country which is the agriculture sectors of the country. What happen when the very nature of a country as an agricultural was neglected or much more abused. Naturally, the people in the countrysides were to be involuntarily uprooted and necessarily be planted in the urban areas to compete for earnings to sustain a decent living, and that resulted to the unwanted rise of informal settlers in many government owned lands, rise of criminality, drugs, pornography, severely lacking school facilities, shortage of teachers and school materials and school human services environmental problems, transportation problems, shortage of food supply, etc., etc., which caused can be traceable from greed and corruption that currently existing from our three main branches of the government, The Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary, coupled by the rotten justice system in the Philippines and the other entities as government owned corporations and agencies. You could see now that they were all interrelated problems resulted from the neglect in providing decent livelihood in our vast rural areas. in short, child labor problem is only one of the multitude of government problems which is very apparent on the deep poverty situation of the country. As a result of unnecessary crowding in the cities, all these problems were mere offshoots from government mismanagement, continuously, from time immemorial to the present tine of this generation. Now, we will see how far President Benigno Aquino III, will go on jailing all people involved in the Pork Barrel scandals, probably including himself as a well known financial dictator out of its over one billion of it PDAP,

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