New law gives special protection for children during armed conflict

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a legislation that gives special protection to children in situations of armed conflict, imposing heavy punishment on anyone who violates their rights.

Duterte on January 10 signed Republic Act No. 11188, or the "Special Protection of Children in Situatations of Armed Conflict Act," according to a document released by Malacañang on Tuesday. 

It declares all children – those under 18 years of age and adults who are unable to fully protect themselves due to physical or mental disabilities – as "Zones of Peace" and mandates the government to protect their rights.

"The State shall take feasible measures to prevent the recruitment, re-recruitment, use, displacement of, or grave rights violations against children involved in armed conflict," the law reads.

It further defines armed conflict as armed confrontation between government forces and one or more armed groups, or a fight between such lawless groups anywhere in the country.

The military has said rebel and lawless groups recruit potential members from vulnerable sectors, including children. For instance, officials earlier noted several child soldiers or minors fighting government forces for the ISIS-linked Maute group during the five-month war in Marawi City in 2017.

READ: Nearly half of remaining Maute fighters in Marawi are children

The recruitment, conscription or enlistment of children into government forces or armed groups is just one of the many crimes listed in RA No. 11188 punishable with up to 20 years in jail.

The law also imposes lifetime imprisonment for anyone found guilty of committing grave child rights violations such as killing, torture, intentional maiming and rape.

Public officers can also get up to 12 years in jail and be dismissed from public office for "knowingly and maliciously" preventing, prohibiting, or discontinuing the implementation of any provision in the law. 

The act also forms an Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (IAC-CSAC), which shall take the lead role in protecting children in situations of armed conflict. It is chaired by the Council for the Welfare of Children, which was tasked to come up with implementing rules and regulations.