The United Nations envoy for children and armed conflict and a political movement in the Philippines today agreed to develop an action plan to ensure that no children are among the ranks of the military group known as the New People's Army (NPA), or are involved in the armed conflict.
The action plan will be finalized in high-level talks between the Office of the Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“It is the first time that we have been able to reach out to the NDFP and I am hopeful that we will be able to sign an action plan as soon as possible,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy, at the end of her five-day visit to the Philippines.
The NPA, together with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group, are listed in the Secretary-General's report on children and armed conflict for using and recruiting girls and boys.
Before Ms. Coomaraswamy's meeting with the NDFP, the Government of the Philippines gave its full consent to the UN efforts to initiate dialogue with the group.
During her trip to Mindanao, Ms. Coomaraswamy met with the MILF leadership and agreed that the ongoing process of registration of children associated with the armed group will be completed in nine months.
She said she was pleased to learn that, since the signing of the action plan, the MILF has made strides in implementing the plan and taken action to build awareness of the agreement within their ranks and communities.
Ms. Coomaraswamy urged the MILF leadership to enforce compliance with the action plan and suggested that accountability measures as well as complaints procedures be put in place.
To date, roughly 600 children have been registered by trained community members with the support of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and now the focus is on ensuring that these children have access to basic services such as education, health and community programmes to prevent recruitment.
“In Mindanao, where girls and boys are born into communities where armed elements are a constant feature, we have to get the entire village working on the successful protection of children,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.
She also met with the Executive Secretary of the President, the Secretary of Defence as well as senior commanders of the Philippine armed forces and expressed concern with regard to continued reports of children associated with paramilitary units.
“I am pleased to see that the Government of the Philippines and its armed forces are committed to taking immediate action and to work closely with the United Nations to better protect children from the conflict, prevent violations, and hold accountable those not following the general order of non-recruitment,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.
She said the UN will provide technical assistance to the armed forces' human rights units, including to the human rights focal point. The Special Representative also raised the issue of occupations of schools in some districts.
Ms. Coomaraswamy and UNICEF Representative in Philippines Vanessa Tobin were encouraged by the proposed law for the protection of children affected by armed conflict that is being debated by members of the Philippines House of Representatives.
“This is an important bill, not just to protect girls and boys, but to ensure accountability of those violating the rights of children. UNICEF, and the partners who developed the bill, urge legislators to prioritise this landmark legislation which could be a model for other countries,” Ms. Tobin said.
The Special Representative said United Nations and its partners in the field are encouraged by the recent initiatives with regard to the peace process in the Philippines.
“All parties to the ongoing peace talks can be assured that the United Nations stands ready to assist in what is needed to build zones of peace for children in the Philippines,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.