The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has released the first batch of 1,858 child-soldiers in Camp Darapanan on Sunday, in the Sultan Kudarat province of Philippines. These child soldiers were associated with MILF's armed wings Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Women's Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB).
This release ends the recruitment and use of children in the violent conflict plaguing Mindanao, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Philippines announced on Saturday. The release of child combatants will be on until March 2017.
In a statement, according to the Manila Bulletin, Philippines' largest broadsheet newspaper, UNICEF, which facilitated the process, said that the event was "part of a series of ceremonies that will eventually disengage 1,858 children who were formally or informally associated with the armed wing of the MILF."
"Children affected by armed conflict are some of the most vulnerable children in the world. We need not look far. Right here in the Philippines children are affected by armed conflict in different ways. They can be recruited as soldiers and engaged in direct combat, or as aides with seriously harmful consequences threatening their life and well-being. Let children be children – let them play, go to school, and live healthy and happy," observed UNICEF's Philippines Representative Lotta Sylwander at the press conference according to various media reports.
The children release would now receive appropriate support from government and development agencies so that the can enjoy all their rights to health, education and life.
This release is in line with the UN-MILF Action Plan, signed in 2009 and extended in 2013, on ending the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict in Mindanao. The MILF also committed to concrete and time-bound activities pertaining to unimpeded access by monitoring teams, and awareness and capacity building on child rights and child protection mechanisms within the MILF.
In 2015, UNICEF initiated a six-point roadmap for the joint action plan, which involved a four-step process for identification, confirmation, validation and orientation of children associated with the MILF combat ranks, reported the news website.
The four-decades-long insurgency, combined with clan feuds, banditry, and the proliferation of firearms, has plagued much of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), located some 1,300 kilometers from Philippine capital Manila.