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Children should come first after conflict

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At Large

Children should come first after conflict

Now that the Marawi conflict has been declared “over,” people’s minds are turning toward rehabilitation and rebuilding. And oh boy, are those needed in the once-beautiful city of Marawi!

Aerial shots of the devastated city show a city in ruins: buildings razed to the ground, whatever walls that remain standing are pockmarked by bullet holes while gaping jagged doorways created by mortar fire expose the insides of homes and buildings. Residents fortunate enough to have escaped much of the fighting patiently wait in bright yellow “tent cities,” enduring heat and instant floods that take place whenever it rains. Others, who fled to the homes of relatives living nearby, wonder when and if they’ll be allowed to return to their devastated homes.

But there is more to recovery than just clearing war debris and restoring homes, schools, churches, mosques and buildings to a semblance of what they were before the fighting began.

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There is also the need to re-create the sense of community that prevailed before the bullets and bombs started raining down. Children, for one, need to recover their sense of safety and security, find stability in a return to their routine of school and family, and learn once more to trust and to believe.

We must realize, for one, that while fighting in Marawi has ceased, conflict among various armed groups still bedevils much of Mindanao. Martial law still prevails in the island, and while the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — the largest of the Muslim insurgent groups — has been held to a ceasefire since 1997, firefights still puncture the peace, by breakaway groups such as the Maute-IS that sparked the violence in Marawi.

Boding well for lasting peace in Mindanao is the removal of the MILF from a UN list of armed groups suspected of recruiting and using children as fighters in their ranks. This declaration, said observers, “marks a stride and a victory toward realizing children’s rights in the Philippines.”

An annual report presented annually to the UN Security Council said that in 2016, “UN engagement has led to the delisting of two parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Philippines.”

In the Philippines, Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency, cooperated with the MILF to craft an Action Plan “upon the fulfillment of a six-point roadmap, resulting in the disengagement of 1,869 children from the ranks of the MILF.” The children, who had previously been set to work as spies, couriers, messengers and even fighters will now, said Unicef, have “access to appropriate support and services from government and development partners to enjoy all their rights to health, education and protection.”

“The MILF’s commitment to protect and promote the rights of children in their communities continues today, even as they are delisted from the UN report. Fostering lasting peace for children involves continued vigilance by all concerned, including the government, civil society, elders, parents and children themselves to ensure they are not involved in or used in armed conflict,” Unicef Philippines representative Lotta Sylwander said.

Although peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF have gone through distressing stops and starts, the MILF has shown sincerity in protecting the children who were once part of their ranks. The program of support for disengaged/at-risk children and their families through Unicef is being supported by the governments of Japan and Canada, among others. For its part, the MILF instituted safeguards through its command structure to regularly monitor and screen troops to prevent children from “associating or re-associating.”

It’s been reported that the most common grave violations locally are recruitment and use of children, occupation of and attacks on schools, and killing and maiming and detention for alleged association with armed groups.

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Now that the Marawi crisis has been deemed over, perhaps we as a people can move on. Resuming the peace process with the MILF is a good first step.

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TAGS: At Large, Marawi rehabilitation, Marawi siege, Rina Jimenez-David
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