Hard Time
A heart-rending story of child prisoners in the Philippines told in their own words.
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2008 17:23 GMT

Director: Kylie Grey

Imagine a prison where children as young as nine are locked up in the same cells as adults - adult offenders convicted of rape, murder and even child abuse. You may think this is no place for a child.

"Tommy" doing hard time in Cebu prison

But such jails are the norm in the Philippines. At Cebu City prison, more than 1800 inmates sit behind bars - when it was built to hold just 200. But it's not just the overcrowding which is the issue.

There is no segregation. Many of the prisoners are street children, forced by poverty to work as pickpockets, drug dealers or prostitutes.

Bullying and torture by the older prisoners, they say, is a part of every day life.

Even when they are kept in separate cells from adults, the door is kept open at night, leaving many children unable to sleep for fear of being raped.

Tommy (not his real name) is 11 years old and a seasoned jailbird. His first stretch behind bars - for theft - was at the age of eight. His dream, he says, is "to get rich so I do not have to steal anymore." In reality, Tommy is turning into a hardened convict.

Many street kids end up in prison

When his four-month sentence ends, he eagerly awaits his return home - only to be greeted by his grief-stricken mother who says she cannot afford to provide for him anymore - and that he must go back.

It seems the options for Tommy are limited - between a life of crime on the mean streets, or a further stint in prison.

Hard Time is a heart-rending story told in a child prisoner’s own words to filmmaker Kylie Grey.

This episode of Witness will air on Tuesday, 15 January, 2008 at 0430GMT; 1230GMT; 1630GMT; 2330GMT.

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