By Ellson Quismorio
The Lower Chamber has taken a huge step toward enhancing state protection of children’s lives and their rights in times of war during which they are most vulnerable, House appropriations committee chairman Davao City 1st district Rep. Karlo Nograles said today.
Nograles made the statement after the funding provision of a substitute bill titled “An Act providing for the special protection of children in situations of armed conflict and providing penalties for violations thereof,” was approved by the committee.
Nograles said the rather timely piece of legislation represents the harmonization of five bills, namely House Bill (HB) nos. 13, 1280, 2345, 3050 and 4676.
“The battle of Marawi City last year between government forces and Maute Group terrorists showed that dangerous situations for children can spring up anytime and out of nowhere. Having this proposed law in place would at least give us a legislative countermeasure to such instances,” noted the Mindanao lawmaker.
It can be recalled that the terrorists occupied Marawi, Lanao del Sur on May 23, 2017. This sparked a grueling door-to-door campaign by government troops, who would manage to liberate the city later in October.
“During that span of time, there were several reports of children being among the civilian fatalities of the various skirmishes. We must give our kids greater protection from all forms of abuse and violence based on law,” Nograles reckoned.
In its January 17 deliberation, the Nograles panel approved the appropriations requirement of the substitute bill without any amendment.
The proposed statute provides protection to all children involved in, affected by or displaced by armed conflict as guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and all other core human rights treaties.
It introduces the rights of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict, which include the right to be considered objects of special respect, to be protected from any form of attacks or acts of violence, to be protected from participating in armed conflict, to be treated humanely in all circumstances, to seek asylum, to have access to justice, and to be united with their families.
“More importantly, the measure enumerates grave child rights violations, penalties and prescription of the crime and other unlawful acts,” Nograles said.
The bill heavily penalizes any person who commits any of the following acts of grave child rights violations: killing of children, torture against children, intentional maiming of children, and child rape.
Individuals found guilty of committing any of these acts shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than P2 million but not more than P5 million.
Also prohibited are these additional grave child rights violations, namely: cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment committed against children; abduction; casual maiming; taking children as hostages or using them as human shields; recruitment, conscription, or enlistment of children into governmental armed forces and other armed groups; acts of gender-based violence; refusal or denial of humanitarian access and/or assistance to children; use or involvement of children 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.
Nograles said the harmonized bill also imposes punishment and perpetual absolute disqualification to any public officer who shall knowingly and maliciously prevent, prohibit, refuse or discontinue the implementation of any provisions of the proposed Act.