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Children in armed conflict get protection fund

A committee of the  House of Representatives has approved the funding for the protection of children in situations of armed conflict (CSAC).

The committee on appropriations chaired by Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles (1st District, Davao City) approved a substitute bill which provides the use of current year’s appropriations of the concerned implementing departments/agencies for the initial implementation of the proposed law. Thereafter, the amount necessary for its continued implementation shall be included in the budgets of the concerned departments/agencies in the annual General Appropriations Act.

The bill seeks to make Executive Order No. 138 of 2013, which adopted the Comprehensive Program for Children in Armed Conflict, more responsive, according to Rep. Manuel Jose Dalipe (2nd District, Zamboanga City), one of the bill’s principal authors.

Photo from UNICEF

“We cannot allow children to be used by armed groups or armed forces to further their beliefs. We cannot allow their schooling to be disrupted by armed conflict without putting a framework,” Dalipe said.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) earlier expressed opposition to the bill. DSWD Undersecretary Mae Fe Templa said existing laws protecting children in various situations as provided by Republic Act 7610, the Juvenile Welfare Act or Republic Act 9344, and the Revised Penal Code were enough to protect children in various situations, in particular, situations of armed conflict.

“We further support these existing laws,” Templa said.

The bill penalizes grave violations of child rights with six years to lifetime imprisonment and a fine of up to P 2 million. Non-implementation or violations by public officers shall be punished by imprisonment of six to 12 years and perpetual absolute disqualification from public office.

The bill likewise provides for the rehabilitation and reintegration, rescue, and release of children.

Section 23 of the bill mandates the State to take all feasible measures to ensure that children involved in armed conflict (CIAC)—those recruited or used in armed conflict—are demobilized, dissociated or otherwise released from the armed force or group. It adds that release activities shall be initiated independent of negotiated peace agreements.

The state and relevant government agencies are tasked to develop a child-specific release program that should not make as a requirement the surrender of arms by CIAC; the monitoring and documentation of the status of CIAC who undergo a formal or informal release process; and share data and information between government and non-government entities to assess the needs or released CIAC, among others.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Children Involved in Armed Conflict (IAC-CIAC) created in EO No. 138 shall become the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (IAC-CSAC) to undertake the measure. It shall be chaired by the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), while members include the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Commission on Human Rights, Philippine Commission on Women, and other government organizations.

The bill further mandatse the immediate dismissal of criminal cases against CIAC, including those who reach the age of 18 pending court proceeding or in suspended sentences.

Children who have been convicted and are serving sentence at the time of effectivity of the bill and who were below 18 at the time of the commission of the offense shall be awarded retroactive application of the bill. They are also entitled to appropriate dispositions and their sentences shall be adjusted accordingly..#