ITN exclusive ends scandal of Filipino child prisoners

An investigation into child imprisonment by an ITN journalist triggered a US government investigation and led to the Philippines rewriting its law on juvenile imprisonment.

In the 24 hours following the report, which uncovered cases of young children being jailed alongside paedophiles and rapists, ITN received 7,500 calls and 4,000 emails — one of its largest viewer responses.

Reporter Chris Rogers said: "I was just doing my job, but it is a wonderful feeling that your job can lead to such an amazing side effect — that you can actually help save the lives of children."

Rogers came across the story while researching another piece on street children in Brazil.

In what he describes as a "marvellous Google", he found a link to a website set up by a Catholic priest, featuring a photograph of a five-year-old girl at the bars of a small cell containing other imprisoned children.

Rogers assumed this was a one-off case, but after making contact with the priest he discovered that there were around 25,000 children in Filipino jails.

For three months Rogers, who is normally a presenter and reporter for ITN, researched how to get into the jails and set up the investigation. He said that he felt personal as well as a professional pressure to do justice to the story.

He added: "It was a story that hadn't been told, and to me it was a story that needed to be told.

"You can't help but develop a personal attachment to a story like this because you hope that your work will embarrass a government into changing what is obviously, to everyone, something that shouldn't be happening."

Rogers and his team gained access to the jails by posing as aid workers.

He said: "We spent a lot of time building up trust with the jail… They allowed us to film on a small home video camera. I told them that I was documenting my work to show that they were children that needed help."

After his initial report, which was broadcast in August 2005, the ITN reporter returned in January this year to see what had changed.

He said that in an attempt to move children away from adults, they had now been put in small cages: "It was like they were stacked on shelves."

Roger's report was picked up by CNN and was seen by a member of the US Congress's human rights committee.

Following a campaign by the congressman and US charities, Rogers was called to Washington to report on his findings.

He said: "The most that an American government can do in a situation like that is to write letters to the president [of the Philippines], send a congressional team over there to meet the president and have a tour of the prisons, which is what they did."

Last week the chairman of the Philippine Congress's justice committee said that a new juvenile justice bill will exempt offenders of 15 years old and under from criminal liability.

Minors under 13 years old will be exempt from criminal accountability.

Rogers said one of his bosses at ITN told him: "It's not our job as journalists to change the world, but if the work that we do leads to that change, it's a glorious side effect."

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