Crusader Against Child Prostitution

LONDON—Columban Father Shay Cullen's call for an international court to protect children is the latest effort in a missionary career that has focused on saving abused and neglected children.

The 56-year-old priest's primary effort has centered on the eradication of child prostitution, a practice that is rampant in many parts of Asia where he has spent most of his priesthood since his ordination in 1969.

Often a lonely battle against ingrained culture practices, the struggle has brought him into conflict with mobsters, “sex tourists,” corrupt politicians and even the U.S. Navy.

Based in Olongapo City in the Philippines for the last 25 years, Irish-born Father Cullen is the founder of People's Recovery Empowerment and Development Association (, which began as a community-based drug education, prevention, and rehabilitation agency.

The organization's activities shifted into the realm of child prostitution in response to the thriving child sex business that fed off the huge U.S. Navy base at the Philippines Subic Bay. “The mayor and the [Navy commanders] were well informed that nine year-olds were being sold as sex objects to the sailors and to local pedophiles,” Father Cullen said last month at the International Forum for Child Welfare in Helsinki.

“But instead of reacting to protect the children and bring the abusers to justice, they tried to cover up, no doubt to protect their own personal careers, their own neglect and the immoral and illegal activity,” said Father Cullen.

“The policy of the local government official was … to make personal gain from the sex industry. The policy of the military was to care for the sexual needs of [its] men at the expense of the women and children.”

The U.S. courts refused to consider a 1993 lawsuit brought by Father Cullen's organization against the Navy but, with the help of supporters in Congress, the group won a $2 million settlement from the U.S. Agency for International Development that covered the medical and educational expenses for the children of Filipino mothers who were left abandoned by the American servicemen who fathered them.

While his efforts have focused on Asia, Father Cullen has cautioned that the West is not without its share of responsibility for the Asian sex trade.

Earlier this year, the priest assisted British authorities in the prosecution of English and Scottish men who helped run a Bangkok pedophile ring that catered to “sex tourists” from Europe and North America who visit Thailand to prey on child prostitutes.

The West is also home to millions of children who are physically and sexually abused in government and private institutions, in the home and in their neighborhoods, said Father Cullen.

“They frequently grow up in a culture of sex and violence, isolated from human interaction by the video game sub culture, without role models of virtue to emulate and admire,” said Father Cullen. He added that high divorce rates mean that many children are “deprived of the stability of family life.”

For more information on Father Cullen's work, call the Jubilee Campaign USA in Fairfax, Va., at (703) 503-0791.

—Paul Burnell