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PHILIPPINES: Young men paying high price for Mindanao conflict

MANILA, 11 February 2010 (IRIN) - Armed conflict and protracted displacement in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao are taking their toll on young men in many areas such as education, and forcing them into adult roles, say aid workers.

The conflict has lasted nearly four decades, displacing and killing hundreds of thousands. Boys are shouldering responsibilities they are simply too young to face and for which they are not prepared, say agencies.

“It is common and expected for young boys, even while they are studying, to help augment the family income by taking on jobs as street vendors, tricycle drivers or contractual labourers,” Steven Muncy, executive director of the Philippines-based NGO, Community and Family Services International (CFSI), told IRIN.

“My father was killed four years ago. Since then, I have been taking on odd jobs to help my mother take care of my six brothers and sisters,” Saidman, 17, told IRIN from Mindanao.

CFSI has provided humanitarian assistance in Mindanao for nearly a decade. Research by the group on the impact of armed conflict on male youth, defined as younger than 24, has found that despite their violent environment, many look to education and skills training as the way to improve their lives.

However, in the Philippines, boys are more disadvantaged than girls in accessing education, and more so in Mindanao, according to the UN Children’s Fund-Philippines (UNICEF).

“More than the girls, the boys are exposed to vulnerabilities like health problems, child labour and violence, like being in gangs,” Lourdes de Vera-Mateo, UNICEF’s chief of education, told IRIN.

“In Mindanao, especially in ARMM, this problem becomes more pronounced,” she said, referring to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, comprising mainly Muslim provinces.

Taking up arms

Limited education opportunities, the proliferation of firearms and the constant state of insecurity and fear have made young boys prone to taking up arms in Mindanao.

“Carrying a gun is way of getting respect. There is a certain status with being armed, whether as a part of a resistance movement or for security. It is certainly more attractive [to them] than being a fisherman or farmer,” said Muncy.

One of the most impoverished areas in the Philippines, the ARMM has consistently pulled down national averages when it comes to key education indicators.

According to the most recent literacy and education survey conducted by the National Statistics Office in 2003, the Philippines’ overall literacy rate was 93.7 percent for males and 94 percent for females.

In the ARMM, it was 71 percent for males and 69.4 percent for females.

The number of children dropping out of school was also the highest in the ARMM, at 23 percent, compared with major provinces such as Luzon and Visayas, where the rates are less than 8 percent.

Peace talks offer hope

In August 2008, hostilities resumed in the ARMM between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), displacing some 700,000 people.

Both sides agreed to a ceasefire agreement in September last year. Peace talks have started and are set to resume on 18 February, offering a glimmer of hope for young men caught up in the conflict.

“The peace talks will be a definite start. But as far as education is concerned, there is a need for interventions that will go beyond putting up a school structure and setting up a curriculum,” said the director of CFSI’s Philippine programme, Vladimir Hernandez.

“Hope needs to be re-established in these young boys. This will make the difference between taking up arms and seeing education as a way to a better life,” he said.

However, this may prove a challenge. The London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, in a 2008 Global Report, noted the continued involvement over years of children in government-linked paramilitaries and Mindanao armed groups, including the MILF.

The MILF acknowledges there are children in its 21 base camps scattered around Mindanao, but insists they only perform simple chores in the community-like camps.

But even if not all children who become members of the armed groups are combatants, their presence in camps, nonetheless, exposes them to extreme risks, campaigners say.

“Whether or not they are being used as child soldiers or in auxiliary roles as cooks or porters, the fact that they are in a camp puts them in danger and cuts them off from basic services like schools and healthcare,” said Ryan Silverio, Southeast Asia regional coordinator for the Coalition to Protect Children in Armed Conflict.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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