Print Version    Email to Friend
Children on the frontline of Philippine conflicts

MANILA (UCAN): The Philippines is home to one of the longest-standing conflicts in southeast Asia. The complex narratives of various insurgent groups fighting the government include the use of children as combatants.
The United Nations (UN) says the recruitment and use of children during conflict is a severe violation of human rights and is condemned by the Security Council. But in many parts of the world children play a direct part in combat.
A child soldier is defined as having an association with an armed force or armed group, recruited or used by the organisation in any capacity, including but not limited to being fighters, cooks, porters, spies or providing sex for soldiers.
In Marawi in the southern Philippines, the Maute group, which claims links with the Islamic State, has reportedly recruited children and is employing the message of martyrdom in training and fighting.
A study by the Philippine Human Rights Centre found that 75.3 per cent of children involved in the country’s conflicts are combatants, while 24.7 per cent carry out auxiliary and support functions and political organising. 
The major reasons children join an armed group are an amalgamation of factors: poverty, perceived government neglect, membership and affiliation of family members in the armed group, victims of abuse, exploitation and injustice, subscription to a particular political ideology and secessionist promotion.
Children who serve as soldiers are deprived of their right to play and reject the idea of playing as an integral part of their growth and development due to sensitive vigilance and security considerations in camps.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, The Philippines has committed to eradicate the recruitment and engagement of children as combatants in conflict.
Even though it is also prohibited under two laws pertaining to child labour and abuse, the country has shown minimal progress in resolving the problem.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported that up to one-fifth of Philippine Communist insurgents—an estimated 7,500 armed combatants—are under 18-years-old, while they made up 13 per cent of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The problem of child recruitment has long existed in the country. It not only requires government intervention, but also calls for immediate and strong, constructive engagement from various civil society organisations.
The reasons why children join armed groups reflect the lack of socio-economic intervention in depressed areas, pushing children to further the cause of insurgents.
The use of children to execute violence has been a way of convincing minorities to bear arms and carry out revolutionary aggression against government forces in order to legitimise causes using the narrative of poverty and social injustice. 
To stop the recruitment of children, counter-radicalisation programmes should be recognised and institutionalised. 
Singapore, for instance, has one of the most effective counter-radicalisation measures that adopts social resilience as a strategy for counter-terrorism.
Inter-Racial Confidence Circles and Harmony Circles for schools, workplaces and other organisations were introduced in 2001 after the Jemaah Islamiyah network was exposed.
It is important that The Philippines and its civil society recognise immediate responses to minimise potential expansion of insurgent and extremist groups that are using children as replacements to further the cause of terrorism.
Using children on the frontlines of combat carries two defining messages for Philippine society: upfront neglect of state responsibility to resolve and address the main reasons they join armed groups and the production of more conflict in the country. 
Children need not be armed and the only way to help them get rid of any potential involvement in terrorism is to provide needed social services, such as education and opportunities for holistic development.
Reuben James Barrete 
Development Worker

More from this section