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(Zamboanga City, Philippines) – Children fleeing the Zamboanga armed conflict in the Philippines require urgent protection, Save the Children says. The children’s aid agency calls on the government, camp managers and other aid organisations to implement greater measures to protect children after reports of child prostitution, assault and trafficking in evacuation centres in the conflict zone.
The armed conflict in Zamboanga that started on September 9th 2013 has displaced nearly 110,000 people, with about 100,000 in overcrowded evacuation centres that lack clean water, proper sanitation facilities and safe spaces for children to play. Approximately 40,000 children are living in 35 evacuation centres.
“These displaced children have been through a terrible ordeal of fleeing their homes due to armed conflict. They are frightened, distressed and may not understand what is happening around them. Yet they are now faced with other major threats such as sexual assault, abuse and trafficking,” said Ariel Balofinos, Program Manager for Save the Children in Mindanao. “Our team, partners and local newspapers on the ground have reported case of rape, attempted rape and child prostitution in recent days, which are simply intolerable.”
“All children, regardless of their situation, have the right to feel safe and protected. This means a roof over their heads, private sleeping and bathing areas, and a safe space to play and learn.”
Save the Children has been working in Zamboanga City with local organisations, providing displaced families with immediate relief items such as water containers and hygiene items and 10 safe areas for children to play and learn. In the coming days, the children’s aid agency will set up a community protection referral systems to prevent further abuse on these vulnerable children. This will be done in coordination with other organisations to ensure that children in all evacuation centres can be reached within a short period of time.
Ariel Balofinos said: “Camps will require better lighting, greater patrol and safe areas for children to gather with supervision. The government agencies need to help raise awareness among evacuees in these camps so that they understand that such acts on children will not be tolerated and that they are responsible in ensuring that children are safe. Parents and other adults need to be vigilant and to work together to keep the place secure.”
Save the Children has been working in the Philippines for over 30 years, supporting worst-affected people to all major disasters and conflicts. The children’s aid agency is currently helping families caught up in Typhoon Utor, Typhoon Bopha, Pampanga Floods, Cotabato Floods and Zamboanga Conflict. In 2012, Save the Children reached over seven million children across the Philippines.
For more information, please contact Carmina Sarmiento, Policy Advocacy Manager for Save the Children in the Philippines at +63 9175251782 or firstname.lastname@example.org.