50,000 kids caught in war yearly
COTABATO CITY—Up to 50,000 children are displaced every year by armed conflicts in the Philippines, according to the highest ranking official in the country of a United Nations agency working for the welfare of children worldwide.
Many of the armed conflicts are in Mindanao, according to Lotta Sylwander, country representative to the Philippines of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Sylwander was here for a lecture on the effects of war on children for members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whose leaders welcomed the UN officials.
Unicef experts went to Camp Darapanan, the main MILF camp, in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for a UN-MILF action plan to discourage the recruitment of children as combatants.
MILF leaders and members agreed to undergo a series of lectures to remind them of the need to adhere to international laws, especially on children,
according to Sylwander.
She said the UN-MILF action plan is the key component of a program to protect children during armed conflicts.
In 2009, MILF has signed an accord binding its members to a UN Action Plan that would stop recruitment of children as combatants.
The plan also seeks to raise awareness among MILF members on children’s rights and the need to protect them. It also seeks to give UN workers unimpeded access to children caught in armed conflicts.
“Unicef recognizes armed conflict as a grievous violation of child rights,” said Sylwander.
“Children are affected by armed violence in different ways. They can be recruited as child soldiers, killed, injured and be deprived of access to basic services, including education and healthcare,” she said.
“Children living in conflict areas in the Philippines are among the most vulnerable, and together with its partners, Unicef is working for all of their rights to be realized and protected,” she added.
Ghazali Jaafar, MILF first vice chair, said the group agrees with the need to protect children in armed conflicts and their right to education and better future.
Lectures by Unicef experts are currently being held in all 31 base commands of MILF and seven front commands of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the MILF’s armed component. Charlie C. Señase, Inquirer Mindanao
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