20 child-soldiers in ARMM get educational benefits for ‘giving up arms’
COTABATO CITY – For “giving up arms,” at least 20 child-soldiers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) got educational benefits under a regional government program with international funding agencies, an official said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has consistently denied it used minors as combatants and that children seen inside rebel camps were from MILF fighters’ families.
The MILF said their camps also doubled as communities for rebel fighters and their families.
But an official of an Australian government-funded education program had said that the children’s presence inside rebel camps was enough to consider them child combatants.
Myra Ali, secretary of the regional labor office, said the child combatants that were given educational benefits would be provided training by the Technical Skills Development Authority (Tesda).
The program, she said, was being supported by the government’s foreign partners.
Rashad Hassan, US special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference, had said that Washington supported programs that would lure away children from actual participation in conflicts.
Hassan noted that armed conflict in the Southern Philippines has to some extent enlisted young people into combat training and militia works — which, he said, was cause for concern to everyone.
In Zamboanga City, the military raised an alarm over the recruitment of minors by the Abu Sayyaf.
The recruitment was uncovered with the arrest of a 12-year old child during the November 14 raid by authorities on a suspected Abu sayyaf lair in Sumisip, Basilan, according to Philippine Army’s spokersperson Major Harold Cabunoc.
The child, who is in fourth grade, has since been turned over to social welfare officials, he said.
“The Army is requesting the help of various government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Education Department including local government officials regarding the presence of child soldiers among the lawless elements that are hunted down by our government forces,” Cabunoc told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone on Friday.
He said the Army was also urging local officials “to monitor the recruitment of young boys to join in any armed group.”
“They can help by persuading the parents not to allow their children to be used as pawns in armed clashes,” Cabunoc said.
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