1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Philippines

Muslim rebels agree to end use of child soldiers

A young boy in MILF fatigures salutes a passing convoy in a sprawling rebel camp near the Mindanao town of Butig. The MILF has agreed to a time-bound program to end the use of child soldiers, a UN official said
(Jason Gutierrez/IRIN)

Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels have agreed to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has announced.

"When we met with the leadership of the MILF, they agreed that they had children in their midst and they agreed to enter into an action plan with a UN country team to ensure the separation of the children from their ranks and their return to civilian life," she said.

"The negotiations will begin for an action plan. The action plan has to be time-bound, concrete, and has to have a process of verification," she said, speaking to reporters in Manila on 12 December.

If the MILF follows through on this commitment, it could given them a sense of legitimacy and boost the chances of a negotiated peace, she said.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic state on Mindanao, in the mineral-rich southern third of this predominantly Roman Catholic country of 91 million people. Tens of thousands have been displaced, in what the government and international aid agencies have described as a complex emergency situation that could lead to a full-blown humanitarian crisis if left unchecked.

Along with the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the communist New People's Army, the MILF has been included in a UN list of groups using child combatants.


In the past, the MILF denied using child soldiers, but acknowledged they had been taking care of boys under eight who were orphaned in some of its camps in the south. It argued it was protecting these boys from hostile fire and giving them an education.

But military intelligence sources and child rights groups say many of them are used on the battlefield or in support roles as porters, guides or camp hands.

The London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers - in a report earlier this year - said that up to 13 percent of the MILF's 12,000 strong force in 2005 were children.

Thousands of people have been displaced in Mindanao as a result of the conflict.

David Swanson/IRIN
Thousands of people have been displaced in Mindanao as a result of the conflict.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
"Humanitarian crisis" risk in Mindanao ...
Thousands of people have been displaced in Mindanao as a result of the conflict.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Thousands have been displaced by fighting since August

Documents also declassified by the army intelligence, and obtained earlier by IRIN, showed that the MILF continued to train children as "tough, self-reliant, fighting men".

“Action plan” to begin in January

Coomaraswamy said the UN and the MILF "hope to begin the action plan in January" which includes the MILF allowing a UN team to inspect their camps to carry out an assessment of the number of child soldiers.

She said she would be urging the MILF to "accelerate the process" so that a report can be submitted to the UN Secretary-General at the end of February. "The end of February is a time-line at least for the first phase [of the action plan],” she said.

Asked why the UN was optimistic that the MILF would live up to its commitment, she replied: "You'd be surprised that in some of our dealings with rebel groups in Africa, they see themselves not as rebel groups but as leaders of whole provinces, nations. They want that legitimacy. They don't want to be on some terrorist list, that's for sure."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help us be the transformation we’d like to see in the news industry

The current journalistic model is broken: Audiences are demanding that the hierarchical, elite-led system of news-gathering and presentation be dismantled in favour of a more inclusive and holistic model based on more equitable access to information and more nuanced and diverse narratives.

The business model is also broken, with many media going bankrupt during the pandemic – despite their information being more valuable than ever – because of a dependence on advertisers. 

Finally, exploitative and extractive practices have long been commonplace in media and other businesses.

We think there is a better way. We want to build something different.

Our new five-year strategy outlines how we will do so. It is an ambitious vision to become a transformative newsroom – and one that we need your support to achieve.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian by making a regular contribution to our work - and help us deliver on our new strategy.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.