MANILA – The Canadian government has lauded the ongoing efforts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to eliminate child soldiers within their ranks, a move praised by the United Nations as the only successful continuing process in the world.
“I am very pleased to highlight this important final step – the identification and separation of children – as well as to begin the rehabilitation of children who have been recruited for and used in hostilities. Children should not be involved in wars,” said Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder in a recent visit to MILF’s Camp Darapanan to open a workshop co-sponsored by the Embassy of Canada and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“The promotion and protection of human rights, including children’s rights, are an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy. It is an area of priority for our work here in the Philippines,” Reeder added.
Over the years, insurgent groups like the MILF and Maoist rebels Communist Party of the Philippines- New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) have been criticized by the United Nations and US State Department for giving combat or auxiliary roles to children, which resulted in their killings during armed clashes.
UNICEF said the MILF’s plan of action to end the use of child soldiers was so far “the only successful ongoing process in the world.”
The implementation of the plan will help MILF transition from a rebel movement to becoming a state actor.
A peace deal was signed by the government and the MILF in March 2014. However, the agreement can not be fully enforced without an implementing legislation that was stalled in Congress when some members of the rebel group figured in a firefight with elite Philippine National Police (PNP) commandos hunting down Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Mamasapano town last year.
“To be considered a credible state actor, you must be compliant with international conventions, including those on the rights of the child,” Reeder said.
Canada has been a longstanding supporter of international efforts advocating for the protection of children affected by armed conflicts.
It hosted the first International Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000. Then in 2006, Canada established the UN-based Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict in New York City and has acted as the chair ever since.
The forum has proven useful in bringing together various UN state members that advocate before the UN Security Council to take stronger measures aimed at those who commit grave violations.