By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
An international group advocating children’s rights and welfare expressed concern for the displacement of more than 76,000 children who “suffer hunger, trauma, and missing out school” in Mindanao due to the “heightened hostilities” in the last two months.
The group – Save the Children Philippines – has called for the protection of children in times of war and armed conflict.
The call is in line with its global campaign on “Stop the War on Children” that highlights the alarming situation of some 420 million children, nearly one fifth of children worldwide-living in conflict zone, up by 30 million children from 2016.
One in five children around the world live in conflict-affected areas and suffer from a huge scale of direct and indirect impact of armed conflict, said the report “Stop the War on Children, launched by Save the Children globally in February.
Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Albert Muyot said “children’s experience of conflict ranges from killing and maiming, to witnessing the destruction of their homes, schools, communities and the death of their loved ones.”
Muyot, a lawyer and a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) said: “The harm done to children by the conflict is devastating.”
Based on reports received by Save the Children Philippines between February to March, it showed that “number of displaced people from five conflict affected Mindanao provinces has reached 127,306 with 76,383 of them children.”
Save the Children Philippines also listed the number of displaced people: in Lanao Del Sur, 8,911; Maguindanao, 35,235; and Sulu, 5,160.
“Two years after the siege, there are still 66,000 people living in tents in Marawi, while there are 12,000 displaced Lumads or Indigenous People (7,200 of them are children) in Surigao del Sur due to heavy fighting for over a year now,” the group added.
Muyot called on “parties to adhere to international humanitarian laws that protect children in times of war and armed conflict and guarantee access to food, health services, and learning facilities.”
Meanwhile, Muyot also raised concern on the report of the Department of Education (DepEd) in Maguindanao where some 4,960 learners cannot resume classes.
“Schools and health centers should be declared as Zones of Peace to allow children to continue their studies and get access to health care and nutrition,” he added.
Save the Children Philippines Humanitarian Manager Reggie Aquino, on the other hand, stressed that the “lives and safety of thousands of children in Mindanao are under constant threat due to recurring and protracted armed conflicts.”
Aquino also noted that “hundreds of children are experiencing hunger and suffering from diseases due to the inaccessibility of healthcare, water, and sanitation.”
Given this, Save the Children Philippines continues to provide psychosocial support, learning materials and facilities to displaced children in affected provinces of Marawi, Surigao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur.
These include establishing Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), a safe space where children can play and learn and Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) where learners and teachers can resume classes.