Gov’t urged to protect children affected by armed conflict

February 2, 2016

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) called on the government to take all necessary measures to protect children in the Bangsamoro, as some Mindanao lawmakers warned of renewed conflict in the region after the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was declared “dead” in the House of Representatives last week.

In a press briefing today, Romeo C. Dongeto, PLCPD executive director, expressed concern on the possibility of revived radicalism in the Bangsamoro following the disruption of the peace process and its impact on children.

“Children are most vulnerable in situations of armed conflict,” Dongeto lamented. He cited studies that show profound negative effects of displacement and destruction due to war on children’s physical, psychological and intellectual development.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) approximates that in the Philippines, 30,000 to 50,000 children have been displaced by armed conflict in the past few years.

Meanwhile, government statistics show that children in the Muslim Mindanao lag behind their peers elsewhere in the country in health and education. The poverty incidence in the region in first half of 2014 stood at 54%, the second highest in the country.

The region had the highest stunting prevalence among children aged 0-5 years at 39% in 2013, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), and the lowest elementary education cohort survival rate in 2013 at 38.65, according to the Mindanao Development Authority.

“In some cases, children are not just victims of war but they become instruments of violence, too, as armed groups recruit and use them as combatants, porters, or human shields,” Dongeto added.

UN has documented 54 and 26 children recruited and used by both state and non-state armed groups in the country in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

“It is the government’s duty to ensure that children are protected and their rights are fulfilled,” Dongeto stressed. He added that the government should work hard to address recruitment and use of children by armed groups, including the Philippine military.

For his part, Rep. Teddy Baguilat, PLCPD vice chair, said that it is highly important to build an enabling environment for children, including non-Islamized indigenous peoples, in the Bangsamoro, where they can realize their fullest potential.

“The children are our future. Investing in children benefits the country in the long run and empowering children is key in building enduring peace in Mindanao,” Rep. Baguilat said.