The Philippine Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers urged all armed groups in the country to respect international humanitarian law by not recruiting children into its ranks, saying the situation of children as combatants has become alarming.
Ryan Silverio, project officer of Philippine Human Rights Information Center (Phil-Rights), said that although they did not know the exact number of child soldiers in the country, the situation is alarming because it affects the lives of the children themselves.
Silverio said these child soldiers are prone to violence that may affect their physical, mental and emotional development. “Aside from mental stress, the children may also develop paranoia upon seeing those people wearing fatigue uniforms.”
He said field reports they received showed that children as young as nine years old are being recruited by armed groups.
He added these children directly participate in armed conflict either as combatants or are assigned as tax collectors and cooks.
Phil-Rights is one of the members of the coalition. The other members include Amnesty International-Philippines, the Psychosocial Trauma and Human Rights Program of the Center for Integrative and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines (UP CIDS PST) and Balay Integrated Rehabilitation Center for Total Human Development (BirthDev).
Agnes Camacho, program officer of UP CIDS PST, said rough estimates showed that at least 10 to 30 percent of children living in communities influenced by armed groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) are recruited as soldiers.
“A newspaper report showed there are at least 172 child soldiers who were either captured or surrendered from 1997 to 2003,” Camacho said.
Silverio added that while the government strictly prohibits the recruitment of people below 18 years old, many are still reportedly recruited into government-sanctioned groups such as the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) and Civilian Volunteer Groups.
With this, the coalition also called on the government to follow its obligations to protect children in general and child soldiers in particular.