Bunso (The Youngest)

Bunso (The Youngest) (Philippines/United Kingdom, 2004, Directors: Ditsi Carolino, Nana Buxani, 64 minutes): Tony is 13, Diosel and Bunso are 11. They are in prison for steal­ing. All around them are hun­dreds of other inmates, both minors and adults. The dir­ect­ors had unpre­ced­en­ted access to one of Manila’s pris­ons where the pop­u­la­tion are pretty much left to their own devices. Guards are rarely seen, and there are few private cells. Instead, the pris­on­ers seem to feed, clothe and shel­ter them­selves. The chil­dren are nom­in­ally part of the “Minor’s Ward”, but with over 150 crowded into one room, and exposed to the ele­ments, many of them find some­where else to sleep. Though viol­ence and rape are only hin­ted at, it’s clear these tiny boys are in danger. A few of the adult inmates try to pro­tect them, but won­der where their par­ents are. In many cases, the par­ents forced the kids onto the street in the first place, where many of them begged or stole out of hun­ger. For some, prison may actu­ally be safer.

The film­makers were work­ing with UNICEF to doc­u­ment con­di­tions in sup­port of an over­haul of the juven­ile justice sys­tem in the Philippines. The law has been ready since 1997, but get­ting any action from politi­cians has taken this long. There are signs that it might not be too much longer before chil­dren this young are spared the hor­rors of an adult prison. Unfortunately, it’s too late for those who have become hardened by their prison exper­i­ence and end up back on the street to sniff glue and get into trouble with the law again.


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