Homeless children are being subjected to torture and violence at a child care centre in Manila operated by the government’s social welfare department, an international rights commission said.

The dismal conditions at the Reception and Action Center (RAC), a public child care institution can be gleaned from the photo of a naked and severely malnourished young boy lying on the floor of RAC Manila last October 12, said the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors and documents human rights in Asia.

The boy, whose name was not released, is one of 270 young people who have been held at Manila’s RAC for a long time, AHRC said, adding, “The condition of other children who are detained there is yet to be ascertained.”

“This type of neglect has led to further deterioration of abysmal conditions — including torture, inhuman treatment and food deprivation resulting in severe malnutrition — faced by children held at RAC on dubious grounds,” the AHRC said, adding the children are also “abused and not given their basic needs”.

Questioning the motive of the police, social workers and the RAC in taking these homeless children into their custody, the AHRC said, “They [government agencies] are neither rescuing nor protecting these children. The unwritten goal (of these government agents is to keep them [the street children] away from the public, notably tourists.”

AHRC said once a street child is placed under the custody of RAC, he or she is “continuously detained without charges”.

All the children at RAC are “effectively deprived of their liberty,” said AHRC, adding parents were never informed why their children were detained and when they would be released.

Policemen and social workers have been empowered to take street or homeless children off the streets of Manila, and bring them to the RAC.

Despite RAC’s lack of budget and obvious absence of a viable programme for homeless children, police and social workers [continue to] justify the arrest and detention of homeless children at RAC by erroneously claiming it gives government protective custody, the AHRC said.

“We strongly condemn the Manila City government for its apparent outright neglect to improve conditions at the RAC,” the AHRC said in reaction, adding, “The continuous failure and outright neglect by the government to act promptly on this is unlawful, and is unacceptable.”

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), AHRC’s sister organisation, informed the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about this case in Geneva, Switzerland last March.

Bahay Tuluyan, a non government organisation and partner of AHRC informed Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada about RAC’s alleged malpractice last February.

“It is obvious neither the national nor the city government of Manila had taken concrete action to address this matter,” AHRC lamented.

Street children in the Philippines belong to a social sector classified as classes D and E, that represent 40 per cent of a 100 million population.