SAVE the Children Philippines has raised concern on the situation of 1.8 million children living in conflict affected areas in Mindanao who face death, injury, diseases and psychosocial trauma due to lingering gun battles.
Lawyer Albert Muyot, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Save the Children Philippines said children are the most vulnerable in armed conflict as they have fragile bodies and dependent on parents and adults for care and protection.
He said reports gathered by Save the Children Philippines showed that 96.4 percent or 3.6 million of the population of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are vulnerable to conflict. 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.
Save the Children, now celebrating 100 years has launched its global campaign Stop the War on Children to seek protection of some 420 Million children around the world who are living in conflict zones , a rise of 30 million more since 2016.
Across the world, children wake up to the sound of explosion of bombs, gunshots, suffer hunger and displacement, are orphaned and are separated from friends and classmates, said Muyot.
He said armed conflict either end or disrupt childhood as children die from gunshots, injury and diseases, forced to leave homes and miss out on school.
The impact of war on children linger beyond the end of conflict, said Muyot. He said the breakdown of essential services such as healthcare, water and sanitation aggravate the situation.
Save the Children global data showed that from 2013 to 2017, the number of deaths of children five years old and below due to armed conflict has reached 870,000, five times higher than the 175,000 adult fighters who died during the same period.
Muyot said children in Mindanao suffer grave violations of their rights. Atleast 16 children were killed in a crossfire in Mindanao last year and another 17 children injured due to similar cause.
He said since 2017, there were 157 recorded cases of grave child rights violations that include 24 attacks in schools and 36 attacks in health care facilities, recruitment of child soldiers and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The condition in evacuation centers also put children at risk of suffering physical and sexual exploitation.
In the last two years, Save the Children Philippines has provided assistance to more than 22,000 children affected by the Marawi siege. These include emergency relief and hygiene kits, learning and teaching materials and psychosocial support services.
Save the Children Philippines continues to provide help to children in Mindanao to have access to education by setting up Temporary Learning Spaces and Child Friendly Spaces. It also trains barangay health workers and set up birthing facilities to improve child and maternal health care.
Schools and health centers should be treated as zones of peace and protection, said Muyot.
He said there is need to improve the living conditions of communities to avoid child recruitment for economic and sexual exploitation.
Muyot hopes that the situation of children in Mindanao will improve with the passage of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC) or Republic Act 11188.
The law guarantees humanitarian support and protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
Every child deserves a future, we must be relentless in pursuing peace to improve their situation, particularly those trapped in situations of armed conflict, said Muyot.