Pope Francis embraces a boy and a girl during a meeting with young people at a Manila university, January 18, 2015.
During a visit to a 400-year-old university in Manila, Philippines on Sunday, the head of the Catholic Church was left speechless by a 12-year-old's question. In the meanwhile, 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
Glyzelle Palomar, who was in the middle of her speech detailing her experiences as a child who once lived in the streets, burst into tears when she asked Pope Francis, "Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution. Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything."
Palomar, together with a boy who also gave a testimony about his struggles as a homeless child, was brought to the Pope, who wrapped them both in an embrace.
According to Rappler, Palomar was homeless before finding shelter in a community run by the Tulay ng Kabataan foundation, a non-governmental organization that tends to Metro Manila's street children.
The Independent reports that the pontiff was so moved that he discarded his prepared speech in English and instead told the girl in his native Spanish, "She is the only one who has put forward a question for which there is no answer and she was not even able to express it in words but rather in tears."
Turning to the 30,000-strong crowd who came to see him, the Pope implored the faithful to be compassionate.
He said, "I invite each one of you to ask yourselves, 'Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave'?"
The Pope spoke about street children again during his Mass in Rizal Park, where six million people turned up despite the rain according to the Philippine News Agency.
"We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected,"CNN quotes the Pope as saying. "And we need to care for our young, not allowing them to be condemned to a life on the streets."
The Pope, who condemned the "scandalous social inequalities," in the country, also urged the faithful "to work together, [protect] one another, beginning with your families and communities."
According to the He Cares Foundation, another group that rescues Filipino street children, there are currently more than 1.5 million homeless children in the Philippines, 70,000 of them living on the streets of Metro Manila.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
'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.'
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.
'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.
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.
EXCLUSIVE - Children CAGED to keep the streets clean for the Pope By SIMON PARRY IN MANILA 14 January 2015Tweet