1.8 million children still facing threats of conflict in Mindanao – children’s rights group

By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Two years after the months-long siege in Marawi, an international group promoting children’s rights and welfare said that nearly two million children continue to “face uncertainties” as they were still living in war-torn homes and schools, while their parents were still without stable jobs or livelihoods.

Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Albert Muyot (SAVE THE CHILDREN PHILIPPINES / FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN) Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Albert Muyot (SAVE THE CHILDREN PHILIPPINES / FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)

Save the Children Philippines said that, two years after the Marawi siege in the Philippines, 1.8 million children “face threats of lingering conflict” across Mindanao.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Albert Muyot, in a statement, said that the lingering armed conflict across Mindanao “means children continue to risk death, injury and trauma.”

Muyot, who is also a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), said that Save the Children has already “begun an emergency response to meet the needs of children and their families because since February there has been sporadic fighting in Maguindanao, Surigao del Sur, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.”

Save the Children Philippines data showed that from February to March, “the number of displaced children in those provinces reached 77,000.”

Stop the war on children

Meanwhile, Save the Children has also launched recently the “Stop the War on Children” which is a global campaign to raise awareness of the conditions of 420 million, or 1 in 5 children who are living in or near conflict zones across the world – including the Philippines.

Muyot noted that “prolonged conflicts across Mindanao aggravate the situation of hunger and malnutrition among children especially those under five years.” Citing Save the Children global data, he noted that the “number of deaths due to armed conflict of children under five years reached 870,000 between 2013 and 2017, five times higher than the 175,000 adult fighters who died during the same period.”

In 2018 alone, the same data showed that “16 children were killed in crossfire in Mindanao and another 17 children were injured due to another similar incidence.” Given this, Save the Children Philippines expressed its concern for the “safety and wellbeing” of the 3.6 million people who live in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) “all of whom are vulnerable to conflict.”

Save the Children Philippines noted that, of this number, “48.8 per cent or 1.8 million of them are children. BARMM provinces include Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.” In the last two years, the group has also reached 22,000 affected children by distributing learning materials, setting up Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) “so they can resume classes” and Psychosocial Services to “address children’s trauma from conflict.”

Muyot assured that Save the Children Philippines was “extending assistance to affected children in Marawi through livelihood and employment programs for their parents.” The organization also provides child protection services by “raising awareness of children and their parents on the risks of physical and sexual abuse” while in evacuation centers. “We must improve the living conditions of communities to avoid child recruitment for economic and sexual exploitation,” he added.

In an effort to prevent the spread of diseases among children, Save the Children Philippines also provides access to safe water and sanitation and distributes soap to meet hygienic needs. Apart from these, the group also raises awareness on hygiene behaviours for children by providing dignified, safe, and clean toilet facilities.

Meanwhile, Muyot expressed hope that the situation for children in Mindanao will improve with the passage of the Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC) or Republic Act 11188 which, he said, will guarantee “humanitarian support and protection of children in situations of armed conflict.”

“The impact of war on children lasts beyond the end of conflict,” Muyot said. “We must be relentless in pursuing peace to improve the situation of children in Mindanao,” he ended. Save the Children Philippines joined local government leaders, communities and families in a day of commemoration of the five-month siege that flattened the once bustling city of Marawi on May 23.