Philippines: Addressing child protection issues as a confidence-building measure in the peace process – Philippines
This story was produced in cooperation with UNICEF Philippines
In the 1960s, a conflict erupted in the Mindanao region of the Philippines between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the latter seeking to establish a region with greater autonomy from the central government. Over the following years, the MNLF split into several different groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The MILF recruited children after they lost their parents or their community came under attack. They were mainly used to patrol, serve as sentries, prepare food and provide medical support, but also in hostilities to defend their community. “Jihad Was compulsory from the age of puberty, which the management of the MILF defined, at the time, at 13 years for boys and 11 years for girls.
With the inclusion of the MILF in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict for the recruitment and use of children in 2003, the UNICEF country office in the Philippines carried out various projects aimed at improve the situation of children and strengthen the prevention of serious violations committed against boys and girls. For example, a project entitled “Defense of the rights and well-being of children affected by armed conflict” under the UNICEF-Government program for 2005-2009 was implemented in 19 provinces. Basic or emergency assistance was provided to more than 33,000 children displaced or living in communities affected by conflict between 2005 and 2007. In early 2007, UNICEF and the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process ( OPAPP) launched “Peace Days” to promote a climate of peace in Mindanao through a program providing basic health services and a long-term commitment focused on early childhood education for the most affected children through conflicts.
These complementary activities helped build trust between MILF and UNICEF. The latter has continuously strengthened his dialogue with the MILF while seeking the support of the Philippine government. The projects demonstrated UNICEF’s commitment and willingness to support the MILF communities.
This led to the publication of a joint communiqué between UNICEF and the MILF in 2007 defending the rights and protection of children in armed conflict. The communiqué was the first agreement between the MILF and a United Nations agency to be signed during the MILF’s diplomatic communication with the international community as part of the peace process to gain credibility and legitimacy as a liberation movement.
“The 2007 joint communiqué facilitated the continued building of trust between the armed group and the United Nations, as well as between the MILF and the government.
This initial deal became the basis for much larger deals and sparked a dialogue between the government and the MILF.
In August 2009, the UN-MILF Plan of Action to End the Recruitment and Use of Children in Armed Conflict was signed. The MILF considered its listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict for the recruitment and use of children as a serious accusation, and thus showed its willingness to respect international law to be withdrawn from the United Nations list. The implementation of the Action Plan ultimately led to the disengagement of nearly 2,000 children from the ranks of the MILF and subsequently to the removal of armed groups from the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report in 2017.
“The listing / de-listing mechanism has acted as an important incentive to secure commitments from the MILF to child protection and to ensure continued dialogue with the UN as part of the peace process.
Along with supporting the implementation of the plan of action, the UNICEF Child Protection team continued bilateral informal discussions with the Philippine government and with MILF leadership to ensure that the peace process addresses child protection concerns.
“In all of these dialogues, UNICEF has stressed the importance of including child protection issues and mainstreaming children’s rights in any bilateral agreement between the Philippine government and the leaders of the MILF, stressing that the dividends of any peace agreement will ultimately benefit future generations.
These advocacy efforts have helped to align the 2009 Agreement on the Civil Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team signed between the Government and the MILF with the provisions of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
In 2014, the historic signing of the Bangsamoro Comprehensive Agreement made the creation of an autonomous region a feasible reality and gave new impetus to the implementation of the Action Plan.
The peace agreement led to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in July 2018, which contains provisions that promote, protect and fulfill children’s rights.
 The association with the MILF is based on the belief that the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination is “jihad fiy sabilillah” (Jihadul asghar). The concept of jihad (Jihadul Asghar) thus became a struggle to protect a peaceful way of life. By engaging in this type of jihad, children believe that they will be rewarded with instant acceptance into heaven, either as a martyr (shahid) or by dying of old age but having lived the life of a mujahideen (holy warrior). ). Parents also described their children’s participation in MILF-BIAF as fulfilling a religious duty.