SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House of Representatives ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the reconciled version of House Bill 7442 and Senate Bill 2023, which once signed into law, will provide for the special protection of children in situations of armed conflict and provide penalties for violations thereof.
House Bill 7442 is principally authored by Rep. Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (4th District, Quezon City) while Senate Bill 2023 is mainly authored by Sen. Vicente Sotto III.
The proposal, also known as the “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act” declares it is the policy of the State to provide special protection to children in situations of armed conflict from all forms of abuse, violence, neglect, cruelty, discrimination and other conditions prejudicial to their development, taking into consideration their gender, cultural, ethnic and religious background.
The Act shall apply to all children involved in, affected by or displaced by armed conflict.
Likewise, the application of the Act shall not affect the legal status of any party to the armed conflict.
As defined under the Act, the term “children in situations of armed conflict” refer to all children involved in armed conflict, children affected by armed conflict and internally displaced children.
Children involved in armed conflict (CIAC) refer to children who are either forcibly, compulsorily recruited, or who voluntarily joined a government force or any armed group in any capacity. They may participate directly in armed hostilities as combatants or fighters; or indirectly through support roles such as scouts, spies, saboteurs, decoys, checkpoint assistants, couriers, messengers, porters, cooks or as sexual objects.
Children affected by armed conflict refer to all children population experiencing or have experienced armed conflict.
On the other hand, the term internally displaced children refer to children or group of children, whether separated or together with their families, who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular, as a result of or in order to avoid the effect of armed conflict and situations of generalized violence.
“Armed conflict” refers to armed confrontations occurring between government forces and one or more armed groups, or between such groups arising in the Philippine territory. These shall include activities which may lead to, or are undertaken in preparation of armed confrontation or armed violence that put children’s lives at risk and their rights violated.
As provided under the bill, children are declared as zones of peace. As such, they shall be treated in accordance with the policies stipulated under Article X, Section 22 of Republic Act No. 7610 otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”.
The measure further states that treatment of children as zones of peace shall extend beyond territorial or geographical boundaries and shall focus on the person of the child whose rights shall be promoted and protected at all times, especially in situations of armed conflict and violence.
Furthermore, the State and all sectors concerned shall have the responsibility to resolve armed conflict in order to promote the goal of children as zones of peace.
The rights of children in situations of armed conflict include the right to life, survival and development; the right to be treated as victims; the right to be protected from maiming, torture, abduction, rape and killing, especially extrajudicial killing; the right not to be interned or confined in camp; the right to nondiscrimination; and the right to privacy and confidentiality in all proceedings.
They are also granted the right to be with their families, especially with their mothers, during evacuations and in evacuation centers; the right to the protection of their family’s properties and possessions in all circumstances; the right to be consulted and to participate in all matters affecting them; and the right of access to justice including free legal aid when filing cases against the perpetrators, among others.
The bill mandates the State to take all feasible measures to prevent the recruitment, re-recruitment, use, displacement of, or grave child rights violations against children involved in armed conflict. It shall take all necessary measures to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the Act.
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 who shall be found guilty of the following acts against children: killing; torture; intentional maiming and rape of children and other forms of sexual violence.
Meanwhile, 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 such as recreation parks, playgrounds and malls.
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 (IAC-CIAC), created by Executive Order No. 138, into the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (IAC-CSAC).
The IAC-CSAC shall perform the following functions: (a) ensure that international instruments such as the UNCRC, the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and other related human rights treaties are considered as actions taken; (b) formulate guidelines and develop programs, in coordination with concerned agencies, for the handling of children involved in armed conflict and monitor or document cases of capture, surrender, arrest, rescue or recovery by government forces; (c) conduct human rights training, advocacy and information campaigns and capacity building of local government units (LGUs); (d) implement a monitoring, reporting and response system for grave child rights’ violations in situations of armed conflict; and work closely with concerned agencies in coordinating and monitoring the implementation of the enhanced CSAC program framework.
The measure also creates an oversight committee on CSAC which shall be composed of the Chairpersons of the Committee on Children in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, CWC (Council for the Welfare of Children), OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process), CHR (Commission on Human Rights), and one CSO (civil society organization) representative which shall be determined by the aforementioned government agencies. | Ma. Victoria Palomar