UNICEF statement on protection of alleged child combatants
MANILA, 8 October 2013 – UNICEF today issued a statement, urging the protection of children alleged to be child combatants associated with the MNLF rebels in Zamboanga.
According to the reports received, to date, five children have been identified by the concerned authorities as possible child combatants and are currently under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). There are also allegations of mistreatment by security forces while these children were under detention before they were transferred to a DSWD facility. These reports have not been corroborated yet.
UNICEF is currently working closely with partners and the concerned authorities to verify the children’s status and conditions.
UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict to protect children from all forms of violence. It also calls on the government to ensure an investigation into the current allegations.
UNICEF recognizes an extensive range of legal measures that the Government of the Philippines has already adopted for the promotion of child rights and the protection of children as zones of peace in situations of armed conflict. Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 provides for children's rights while under detention by the authorities. They include the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance; the right to have his/her privacy respected; and the right to be treated with humanity and respect, in a manner that takes account of his needs and age.
The Philippines is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict which stipulate these measures. UNICEF also calls on all parties to respect, adhere to and be guided by the UN Rules for the Protection of Juvenile Deprived of Their Liberty.
If these children were combatants or associated with or involved in armed groups, this would constitute a grave child rights violation within international law for the "recruitment and use of children" in hostilities. Children thus involved are victims of hostilities. Former child combatants need immediate assistance for rehabilitation and support for reintegration into their communities and should not be condemned or prosecuted for their actions or involvement in hostilities.
If the children were not combatants, they need to be reunited with their families as soon as possible and provided with necessary assistance for rehabilitation.
While investigations are still ongoing, children require special protection against undue exposure. Efforts should be made to ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the primary concern in reporting and covering cases involving children. Regardless of their status while in custody, children need to be provided with special care and protection as minors including:
UNICEF calls on all parties to reaffirm the principle that children have no place in conflict and must be protected from any violations of their rights.