Conflict zones

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By Radzini Oledan

Slice of Life

Thursday, July 31, 2014


SOMEWHERE in the conflict zones, there are children taking part as couriers, foot patrol guards or doing chores like preparing food and carrying supplies. They are young, stripped of their innocence and are spending most of their time in the battleground rather than in school.

They live under harsh and hazardous conditions, and face the danger of getting injured or killed in encounters. Despite international appeals to stop the practice, children are still conscripted into these auxiliary roles.

Any child, boy or girl less than 18 years of age, who is recruited compulsorily, by force or otherwise with the intention of using him or her for combat by armed forces, paramilitary forces, civil defense units or other armed group is considered as combatant. The country is one of those where there is strong evidence of children being directly or indirectly used in ongoing or recently ended conflicts.

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Just like child labor, an accurate picture of child soldiers in the Philippines is difficult to obtain because of the invisible nature of the problem. The International Labor Organization-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC) estimated that anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the children in any given community influenced by either the NPA or MILF are drafted as soldiers.

While there are no indications that children under 18 are being recruited into government military services, ILO-IPEC report indicated that children are also recruited into government sanctioned paramilitary groups or used as assets or spies.

The UN Children's Fund has repeatedly expressed concern on the existence of child soldiers, but noted that aside from being a signatory to international protocols protecting the rights of the child, there are enough laws in the country to advocate against the recruitment of minors.

Those who are most likely to become child soldiers are those from impoverished families or those who were separated from their families during conflict. We have yet to hear of a concrete program from local government units on how to deal with children caught in conflict.

Invisible as they are, interventions are almost always relegated to basic assistance and not enough on psycho-social care. Without education, these children have a hard time reintegrating back with their family or community. When rescued, they are treated no less than a common offender, castigated for their involvement in an armed group.

In many ways, the community has failed to protect these children from abuse and exploitation. In fact, the way we deal with conflict situation provides a template for children to respond. Instead of facilitating and investing on dialogue and education, huge allocation is relegated on arms procurement.

As all parties pay lip service to the rights of children, thousands are denied and robbed of their childhood. But have we ever paused and realized that armed or not, they are children with human rights?

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Email comments to roledan@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 01, 2014.

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