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House OKs bill to protect children in armed conflict

The House of Representatives, voting 232-7, has approved on third and final reading the proposed measure that will give ample protection to children caught in the midst of armed conflict.

Principally authored by Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., House Bill 7442 or the “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act” covers all children involved in, affected by or displaced by armed conflict.

The bill defines “child” as a person below 18 years of age or even older but is unable to fully take care or protect himself from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation or discrimination; and unable to act with discernment because of his physical or mental disability or condition.

For one, the bill provides measures, structures and activities that not only ensure prevention and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence affecting children but also promotes their development and psychosocial well-being.

The bill declares children as “zones of peace” who are accorded certain rights in situations of armed conflict, including the right to life, survival and development; the right of special respect and protection against any form of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violation, especially in the context of armed conflict; and the right to be treated as victims.

Likewise, children in situations of armed conflict have the right to be treated with special respect and to be protected from any form of direct or indiscriminate attacks and acts of violence; the right to be protected from extra-judicial killings, maiming, torture, abduction and rape; and the right not to be interned or confined in camp.

They also have the right to be protected from recruitment from any armed groups and from participation in armed conflict in whatever manner.

The bill mandates the State to take all feasible measures to prevent the recruitment, re-recruitment, use of displacement of children involved in armed conflict and ensure the effective implementation of the Act.

The State has the duty to pursue in both formal and non-formal settings the mainstreaming of peace education programs and the promotion of the culture of peace and nonviolence.

It must also provide educational assistance, whether formal or alternative learning system that is child and culturally sensitive, and establish livelihood programs in identified priority areas to alleviate the living conditions of the people in conflict areas.

To ensure compliance with the law, the bill provides the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million to any person found guilty of the following acts against children: killing, torture, and intentional maiming and rape.

On the other hand, the penalty of imprisonment of 14 to 20 years and a fine of P1 million to P2 million shall be imposed on any person found guilty of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment committed against children.

Such penalty covers the following prohibited acts: abduction of children; causal maiming of children; taking children as hostages or using them as human shield; recruitment, conscription or enlistment of children into government armed forces and other armed groups; acts of gender-based violence against children; refusal or denial of humanitarian access/and or assistance to children; use or involvement of children involved in armed conflict in any capacity; and attacks on schools, hospitals, places of worship, evacuation centers and settlements and other public places.

The crimes defined and penalized under the Act, their prosecution and the execution of sentences imposed on their account shall not be subject to any prescription.

To effectively undertake the protection of children in situations of armed conflict and for proper implementation of the Act, the measure also proposes to transform the Inter-Agency Committee on Children Involved in Armed Conflict created by Executive Order No. 138, into the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict.#