Talks impasse bad for children

Leon Dominador Fajardo, coordinator of the UNICEF's project on the protection of  children in conflict affected areas, told MindaNews it is a more difficult situation to wait in uncertainty.

He said the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should be commended for holding on to the ceasefire agreement amid the stalled negotiations.

"But they have to break the stalemate to dispel any further psychosocial impact to people created by the uncertainty, especially to children," he said.  

Fajardo cited the tension and stress created as the uncertainty extends longer and the pockets of incidents of armed encounters in conflict-affected areas.

He said peace negotiators "owe it to the children of Mindanao" to break the impasse in the peace process.

Peace negotiators should use the state of children as the "best standard" in coming up with solutions to the impasse, he said.

Fajardo's project, under the UNICEF's Sixth Country Program for Children, focuses on the welfare of children including those in conflict affected areas.

He could not cite the number of children caught, involved in, and affected by conflict but he said "it is happening" and even if it is insignificant, it matters to them. He noted the danger of using inaccurate data.

He said children in conflict affected areas are either directly or indirectly involved in conflict as victims. He cited the internally displaced people who evacuated their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire, most of them are children.

He also cited those who fled before or after the crossfire because they felt their lives are threatened. Fajardo said they have monitored children recruited in armed groups.   

Fajardo said children have the right to peace and can only best grow in a peaceful environment. He said children, although many of them are resilient, suffer from the fear resulting from the "wait and see" situation where encounters could happen anytime.  

"These are major violations of children's rights," he said. Fajardo said even non-Moro indigenous communities that are venue to conflicts present a dangerous environment for children.

He said they are set to work in both peace time and in times of conflict to advance the protection of children. "Especially so in times of conflict when children are the greatest victims," he said.

But he said they are educating government and other service providers on the ground to integrate advocacy on protection of children in their programs.

Fajardo said they have engaged representatives from local government units, the provincial offices of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), tribal groups, and others in conflict-affected areas, for an advocacy campaign on the rights of children.  

He said community-based mechanism should be put in place to address the need of children who needs special protection, especially in conflict affected areas.

He said the best move is to work at least for the semblance of normalcy for children. So even if in the evacuation centers, education must be pursued as the best psychosocial intervention for them. He said education, coupled with a family support, can take away children from the ills of conflicts.

But he stressed that peace negotiators should really return to the negotiating table soon "so that once and for all the future of the children is cleared".