On December 19, 2022, the CRTG Working Group hosted an Expert Briefing on The Legal Status of Children in Terrorism: Philippine Processes and Practices by Atty. Tricia Clare Oco, Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), an attached agency of the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines.
Terrorism is a major, well-entrenched, and diversified threat in the Philippines. In 1995, approximately 200 Islamist militants, believed to be part of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), ransacked the city of Ipil in Mindanao, looting banks, setting fire to buildings, and killing more than 50 people, before making off with more than half a billion pesos and numerous hostages. Twenty-two years later - an ISIS-inspired group founded by the Maute brothers laid siege to the much larger city of Marawi, located some 300 kilometers east, for a period of five months. By the time security forces finally defeated them, over a thousand people had been killed, hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced, and the city lay in ruins. Reportedly, children had taken part in the confrontations, and a number of foreign children, allegedly recruited by ISIS, had been killed. However, the paucity of data regarding these children challenged verification. However, ASG is just one of many armed groups that the region has had to contend with over the years, and—like ASG—many have proven to be resilient, sometimes even resurgent, in the face of strenuous efforts to defeat them. Children are recruited and used in a multitude of roles by various insurgent and terrorist organizations in certain Mindanao regions, such as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Moslem Mindanao (BARRM), Soccsksargen, and Zamboanga Peninsula.
In recent years, as a response to an increase in the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups, including designated terrorist organizations, legislators have passed laws against children’s military involvement, as well as for the rehabilitation and protection of children in conflict. The Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act provides special protection to children in situations of armed conflict from all forms of abuse while outlining procedures to rehabilitate and reintegrate children into society. The bill echoes the provisions of international law regarding the protection, treatment, and rehabilitation of children involved in conflict.
The aim of this expert briefing was to explore good practices, highlight examples from the Philippines, and offer a series of recommendations to guide the efforts of policymakers and justice professionals in determining the legal status of children as well as the applicable legal frameworks and intervention measures. Although it is generally understood that the recruitment and use of children, regardless of the circumstances and methods employed, constitutes a breach of international law, due to the strategies employed by terrorist and violent extremist groups, children may end up being the perpetrators of crimes, including terrorism and terrorism-related offenses. This expert briefing sought to respond to the following questions:
1. Should the recruitment of a child by a terrorist or violent extremist group determine that the legal status of the child is that of a victim? And if so, would the child’s victim status exonerate the child from being held criminally liable for the commission of terrorism-related offenses?
2. In addition to being considered a victim, is it possible to hold the child accountable for the terrorism-related offense that he or she has allegedly committed? Can a child be both a victim and a perpetrator? How should children be treated when in contact with the justice system? Which authorities have the competence to deal with such children? What procedures should be applied?
This guidance is the result of shared insights, lessons learned, practical examples, and policy recommendations from the joint meeting between the CRTG Working Group and Atty. Oco. It is divided into the following seven sections: legal status determination; victim status; dual status; children in conflict with the law; legislation; rehabilitation and reintegration; general recommendations.