Keeping children out of armed conflicts

The women of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade circle together to show their commitment to helping protect children.

Roundtable discussions outline key actions towards the prevention of child soldiers.

Members of BIWAB sign the declaration against child soldiers.

Childhood is a time for children to play and grow. Put simply, it is a time for children to live as children.  Yet, thousands of boys and girls around the world are robbed of this fundamental right when they are forced into fighting in armed conflicts.

In the Philippines, children have been recruited into armed conflicts for decades.  Recognizing the critical need to address this issue, the Embassy of Canada and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) co-sponsored a roundtable meeting with the Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) to discuss their important role in preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Canada firmly supports the need to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict and for the rehabilitation of children that have been recruited and used in hostilities.  We are pleased to collaborate with our friends from UNICEF on these important matters both in Manila and at the UN Headquarters.” – Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Neil Reeder.

Child soldiers in the Philippines

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, concentrated in the southern Philippines, is a non-state armed group seeking autonomy of the Moro people in the Philippines. As part of the Liberation Front, the BIWAB assists the group with medical, communication and other auxiliary needs.

Together with BIWAB, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has made strides towards ending the use of child soldiers in the Philippines. In 2009, the group signed an Action Plan with the United Nations as a commitment to ensure that no children under 18 are associated with the army either as combatants or in supporting roles.

The Action Plan is a sign of significant progress for the region. It outlines concrete activities for separating children from the army’s ranks, and helps raise awareness on child rights and child protection.

Protecting the right to childhood

The BIWAB roundtable, supported by the Embassy of Canada and UNICEF, marked the first time in the world where female members of a non-state armed group took action to bring about an end to the involvement of children in armed groups in the Philippines. The women of BIWAB have been catalysts for changing the social and cultural norms that have driven children into armed conflicts.

Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF’s Philippines Representative, illustrated the importance of the roundtable, “Women, like the members of the BIWAB, are also the mothers, grandmothers, and sisters of children at risk of being recruited by armed groups. For generations, women around the world have proven to be the peacemakers and peace-builders in their families and communities. When we empower them to be advocates and leaders in their communities, real transformation can take place for those who have been historically marginalized and silenced in society.”

From this roundtable, the BIWAB was able to recommend next steps and plan actions that will help support the protection of children from armed conflict. To commit to these plans, the BIWAB signed a declaration vowing to protect children by campaigning against their involvement in armed groups.

Canada, together with UNICEF and the Government of the Philippines, is committed to supporting the quest for durable peace in the Philippines. Canada will continue to work with these key partners, as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to ensure that the peace process is successful, inclusive and supportive of the rights of all children.

New commitments

Ambassador Neil Reeder opens the workshop on the identification and separation of children involved in conflict.

Participants from various sectors in the conflict areas in Mindanao attend the workshop.

UNICEF partnered with the Canadian embassy in the Philippines in holding this event.

The embassy in Manila welcomed the commitment of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines, to continue working with the United Nations on ending the use of child soldiers in conflict areas in Mindanao, the southernmost part of the country. 

In a recent visit to the group’s headquarters to open a workshop co-sponsored by the Embassy and UNICEF, Ambassador Neil Reeder expressed support to the MILF and the UN’s plan of action to ensure there are no child soldiers within the MILF’s ranks.

“The identification and separation of children is a very important step to begin their rehabilitation and those who have been recruited for and used in hostilities. Children should not be involved in wars,”
– Canada’s Ambassador to the Philippines Ambassador Reeder

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirmed that the MILF’s plan of action to end the use of child soldiers is 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. “To be considered a credible state actor, you must be compliant with international conventions, including those on the rights of the child,” Ambassador Reeder added.

Canada is a leading advocate for the protection of children affected by armed conflicts.  Canada hosted the first International Conference on War-Affected Children in 2000 and 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.  This 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.

The Embassy in Manila has expanded on this role with the 2014 launch of the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict in the Philippines in collaboration with UNICEF.  This policy role has been supported by a number of projects including the workshop on the identification and separation of child soldiers from MILF ranks this year and a roundtable meeting with members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Women’s Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) to discuss the importance of their role in preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict to mark International Women’s Day in 2015.

Canada has been supporting the peace process through policy dialogue and a modest contribution ($1 million) to the multi-donor, World Bank-led, Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) that has delivered community-driven reconstruction and development projects to more than 500,000 people (51% women) in 214 conflict-affected communities in Mindanao since 2007.