May 27, 2015
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) called on lawmakers to strengthen the provision on children’s rights in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as the bill goes to plenary in the House of Representatives next week.
The House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL, voting 50-17, has passed the bill last week after marathon hearings with several substantial amendments approved. However, the bill may still be strengthened by adding an explicit provision prohibiting the recruitment of children by armed groups and ensuring children’s meaningful participation in governance in the region.
“As signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, we have to ensure that children are protected from exploitation by armed groups and are given the opportunity to participate in making decisions that will affect them,” Romeo Dongeto, PLCPD executive director said.
“Children are the ultimate victims of war in Mindanao. Armed conflict has deeply impacted on many aspects of their development. There were even cases where they were used to carry out violence,” Dongeto added.
According to the UN, 54 children used by both state and non-state armed groups in the Philippines in 2011 and 26 in 2012. During the Zamboanga siege in 2013, 32 children were used as human shields and 7 as combatants or porters.
Moreover, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (HEART) reported that more than 123,000 people have fled their homes due to the military offensive launched recently by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) approximates that 30,000 to 50,000 children have been displaced annually in the past few years.
The socio-psychological effects of violence such as constant fear, hopelessness, doubt and suspicion have adversely changed the behavior and disposition of children. Moreover, poverty incidence in the region in first half of 2014 stood at 54%, the second highest in the country.
Government statistics also show that children in the ARMM lag behind their peers elsewhere in the country in health and education. 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 our society. But they hold in their hands the future. We owe it to them to ensure that the BBL will enable them to reach their fullest potential, on the road to achieve enduring peace in Mindanao,” Dongeto said.