Save the Children Philippines has called for continuous and concerted response on the protection of children and their families who have been affected by the ongoing armed conflict in Maguindanao as local authorities and humanitarian actors expect prolonged struggle and further displacement in the region.
More than 60,000 individuals have been displaced, including an estimated 27,500 children (around 13,640 are girls and 13,860 are boys), as a result of the conflict between government troops and extremist groups on 18 March in the Municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, which has since spilled over in the neighboring towns of Mamasapano, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Shariff Aguak, Datu Salibo, Datu Unsay, and Datu Hoffer Ampatuan.
“We are deeply concerned about the present situation of the children in Maguindanao who have to endure fear and displacement once again at the most unfortunate time of COVID-19,” said Atty. Alberto T. Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines.
Save the Children Philippines conducted an assessment in the evacuation centers and found that the major protection concerns of displaced children and adolescents were their fear and psychological stress from the volatile security situation and the apparent lack of privacy in the evacuation centers and toilets. Children and their families have also reported their miserable conditions in evacuation centers.
Due to the compounding safety issues and risks brought about by the pandemic, Muyot highlighted the importance of strategic communication of public health messages across the affected areas and innovative ways to implement the minimum health standards while in temporary shelters.
“We urge the humanitarian community to ensure that boys and girls are accorded with prompt and regular mental health interventions and that temporary shelters are provided with gender-responsive WASH facilities to avert cases of gender-based violence,” said Muyot.
Save the Children Philippines extended humanitarian assistance to 500 affected families by distributing food items and hygiene essentials. The support was made possible through the ReACh 2 TEACH project funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid.
The child rights organization has also been leveraging its engagement with the Local Council for the Protection of Children, Violence Against Women and their Children (VAWC) desks, and the Women and Children Protection Units (WCPU) in the region and the community-based informal structures such as community-based child protection mechanism (CBCPM) groups who have been formally trained to support the government-mandated structures to protect children at all times.
Save the Children Philippines is working closely with the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Ministry of Social Services and Development, the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, and other partners for the effective prioritization of people’s needs and delivery of humanitarian assistance.