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.