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Study exposes new forms of human rights violations vs children

The Philippine Star The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has committed “new forms” of human rights violations against children by labeling them “child soldiers,” a report by a child welfare group said Friday. This as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict will be visiting the Philippines for four days beginning tomorrow to ascertain the impact of the conflict on Filipino children and the association of children with armed groups. The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), which presented the report at a forum in UP Balay Kalinaw, said the AFP also accused children victims of being guerrillas of the New People’s Army and “forcibly used” them as guides in their operations. The group, which deals with psycho-social trauma of children victims of human rights violations, added that members of the AFP “require” women and children to man checkpoints. The CRC warned that all these “practices” put children in direct risk of harm and are precisely against the goals of International Humanitarian Law, meant to ensure that civilians are not caught in the crossfire. Ma. Esmeralda Macaspac, CRC executive director, said the mislabeling of children is especially notable this year, where children were paraded by the AFP in front of the media as “child soldiers.” The report blamed the government’s alleged anti-insurgency program “Oplan Bantay Laya 2” for the commission of human rights violations against children. The CRC said under the Arroyo administration, there are 948 documented cases of children victims of human rights violations while around two million children were estimated to have been affected by “forced displacement” due to armed conflict. The CRC also reported the current broadened definition of “child soldiers” under the Paris Principles might be “inapplicable” to the Philippine context because of the nature and character of the revolutionary groups like the NPA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which operate widely in communities. Meantime, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy will be in the country tomorrow until Dec. 12 upon the invitation of the Philippine government. During the visit, Coomaraswamy will determine first-hand the impact of the conflict on children. She will pay particular attention to the issue of association of children with armed groups, their return to civilian life and protection from violence. The Special Representative will also advocate for broader protection of children in conflict zones and highlight the need to incorporate child protection provisions in the ongoing peace process. Coomaraswamy intends to undertake a dialogue with the government and other relevant stakeholders on these important issues. The Special Representative will follow up recommendations of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the situation of children in the Philippines. She will also undertake discussions on ways to further strengthen the monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave violations committed against children in armed conflict in the Philippines, established within the framework of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005). In a report “Child Soldiers in the Philippines,” Merliza Makinano, of the Department of Labor and Employment-International Labor Affairs Service (ILAS), said children were usually the most affected in armed conflict. – Katherine Adraneda, Pia Lee-Brago