UN hits continued use, detention of child soldiers by state and non-state actors

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 30 August) — The use of child soldiers by non-state actors remains prevalent in the Philippines, according to the United Nations, which also expressed alarm on the rising number of minors detained by government forces for their alleged association with the armed groups, mostly actively operating in Mindanao.

According to the UN Security Council’s fifth report on children and armed conflict in the Philippines released recently, of the 67 verified child soldiers, the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, recruited 23 minors, followed by the Maute Group with 21, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters with 17 and other Islamic State –inspired groups with five. One case was attributed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“I urge armed groups, in particular NPA, to immediately halt the recruitment and use of children, and to release associated children from their ranks for reintegration purposes,” Virginia Gamba, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in the report covering the armed conflict in the country from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019.

Children are not soldiers. The UNICEF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front held a ceremony to mark the end of the participation of chidren in armed conflict at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. on February 18, 2017. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The non-state Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) currently undergoing decommissioning of combatants and weapons and whose leaders have been appointed by the Philippine President to head the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace pact signed in 2014 by the Philippine government and the MILF, was delisted in 2017 as employing child soldiers, resulting in the disengagement of 1,869 minors from its ranks, the UN report said.

To protect children from armed conflict, Gamba urged the Philippine government to swiftly implement the landmark Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC) law approved last year.

“Despite progress achieved, children in the Mindanao region have been disproportionately affected by violence and I urge the Philippines to facilitate access of humanitarian actors to affected areas of Marawi City to assess the impact of the siege on children,” she said in a statement dated August 25.

In a 15-page report, Gamba expressed concern over the two-fold increase in the number of children detained by government security forces for their alleged association with armed groups — 51 children (23 girls and 28 boys) detained, with a spike in 2019 — from the previous report.

“Detaining boys and girls for their actual or alleged association with armed groups only contributes to further victimizing them. I call on the government to abide by the provisions in the CSAC Law that maintain children should be treated as victims, with the best interest of the child as the primary consideration,” she said.

The killing and maiming of children remained the most verified violation with 139 children affected, the majority of incidents due to ERW (explosive remnants of war) or IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the UN report said.

According to her, the UN also verified attacks on 62 schools and 36 hospitals by state and non-state actors.

Gamba said she was also particularly concerned that the education of at least 20,000 children was disrupted following an increase in verified attacks on schools and protected personnel, with increasing cases being attributed to government and pro-government forces and groups regarding threats to children and schools operated by non-governmental organizations in indigenous peoples’ communities in Mindanao. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)