House lawmakers urged to ban recruitment of children by armed groups in the Bangsamoro

August 26, 2015

Children’s rights advocates called on lawmakers to pass a Bangsamoro law that will prohibit recruitment of children as combatants and protect children affected by armed conflict.

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) made the call in a press conference today, as both houses of Congress deliberate their respective versions of the proposed law.

The rights-oriented group urged the House of Representatives to strengthen Article VIII Sec. 12 of its own version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by including provisions banning the recruitment of persons under 18 years by any armed group, recognizing the right of children to participation, and protecting children affected by armed conflict.

PLCPD also called on the Senate to preserve Section 77 Article VIII of Senate Bill 2894 that already lays down a strong mandate to the envisioned Bangsamoro regional government to respect, protect and actively promote the rights of children.

Senate version’s Section 77 recognizes the right of children to participation and prohibits the recruitment of children as soldiers and combatants. It also guarantees the care and protection of children of children in conflict situations. The House version passed by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law lacks these specific provisions.

Rights of a child

“As signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), we have to ensure that the Bangsamoro regional government will create opportunities for children’s meaningful participation in the crafting and implementation of policies and programs that will affect them,” Dongeto stressed.

“The CRC recognizes the evolving capacities of children,” he explained. “This principle holds that, as they grow and learn, children develop greater competence and autonomy to make and take responsibility for decisions that affect their lives.”

For his part, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, PLCPD vice chair, said that the needs and best interests of children should be top priority in the Bangsamoro. “When it is the children’s future that is at stake, we should not let the adults do all the talking. The voice of children, no matter how small, should be heard,” the Ifugao legislator stressed.

The CRC also provides for the protection of children in armed conflict, as the UN laments the negative impact of war on the development and well-being of children.

Children and armed conflict

Studies have shown that displacement of whole communities, destruction of schools and homes, separation of families, and disruption in the delivery of health services and in food supply due to war, cause profound physical and psychological effects on children, ranging from fear to low self-esteem, from depression to aggressive behavior.

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. UN also documented 54 children recruited and used by both state and non-state armed groups in the country.

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.

“Children are among the most vulnerable sectors of society and war only exacerbates their insecurity. We have to ensure that the Bangsamoro law will enable them to reach their fullest potential. Empowering children entails building the road towards enduring peace in the region,” Dongeto said.