By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives has ratified the bicameral conference committee report containing the reconciled House and Senate versions of the proposed “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflicts”.
The report consolidated House Bill 7442 and Senate Bill 2023, both in the priority bill listing of the two chambers.
HB 7442 is the consolidated version of five legislative proposals authored by the following House members: Reps. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (LP, Quezon City); Gus Tambunting (PDP-Laban, Parañaque City); Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon (PDP-Laban, Muntinlupa City); Divina Grace Yu (NPC, Zamboanga del Sur); Ma. Vida Espinosa-Bravo (NUP, Masbate); Christopher De Venecia (NPC, Pangasinan); Eleanor Bulut-Begtang (NPC, Apayao) and Mannix Dalipe (NP, Zamboanga City).
The bill 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.
Provisions of the measure will apply to children involved in, affected by or displaced by armed conflict.
HB 7442 defines a 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 or is unable to act with discernment because of his physical or mental disability or condition.
Authors noted that not only are the rights of children violated during armed conflicts, there have also many instances when they are recruited to engage in battle or act as spies, couriers, errand boys and even decoy against enemies.
It will be recalled that during the Maute invasion of Marawi City, children as young as 12 years old have been spotted carrying heavy weapons to help the terrorist group in fighting government forces.
HB 7442 declares children as zones of peace who will be treated in accordance with the policies stipulated under Republic Act No. 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
It enumerates children’s right to include the right to life, survival and development; right to be treated as victims, right to be protected from recruitment into governmental armed forces and armed groups, and right to be protected from extra-judicial killings, torture, maiming, abduction, and rape, among others.
“Our country’s history of violent struggles has inevitably exposed our children. In turn, child soldiers have been reportedly engaging in these armed conflicts but more, unfortunately, children become unwillingly caught in perilous situations, thereby affecting their youth,” said Tambunting.
For his part, Dalipe stated that children are the “most affected sector” as a result of the consequences of war.
Belmonte, who is authored of HB 13, explained the Philippines has the international obligation to “take all necessary steps to ensure that minimum standards, set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts” are fulfilled.
“The Philippines, being a state party to the convention, is duty bound to fulfill its obligations under this agreement,” said the former speaker.
Aside from imposing stiff penalties against violators of the provisions of the measure, public officers who “prevent, prohibit, refuse or discontinue the implementation of any provision< also face penalties.
ON the other hand, it also grants immunity from suit to any person who ensures the safety of and provides assistance to children involved in armed conflict.
Among the prohibited acts are the killing, torture, intentional maiming and rape of children which carry penalties of life imprisonment and a fine of not more than P5 million.
Considered grave child rights violations are cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment against children; abduction, casual maiming an recruitment of children into governmental armed forces and other armed groups.
Violators face a maximum imprisonment of 20 years and not more than P2 million in fine.
Hamleting, food blockade, false reporting of a child in custody, intentional delayed reporting of a child in custody and arrest arbitrary detention and unlawful prosecution of children are prohibited acts that carry a maximum 12 years imprisonment and no less than P1 million in fine.
The bill provides a non-prescription provision that would allow government to prosecute and execute the sentences of persons violating the measure.