Children and teenagers are among rebel forces linked to the Islamic State (IS) terror group fighting against government troops in southern Philippines, in a conflict that has killed over 500 people, the army said on Tuesday. “We have photos, documents and other proof showing children’s presence among rebels,” army spokesperson Restituto Padilla told Efe news, seven weeks into clashes in Marawi on Mindanao island.
Testimonies of soldiers and residents, who managed to escape, claim that children were recruited by insurgents of the Maute group, a local terror group linked to the IS, Padilla added.
The armed forces a few days ago captured an adolescent militant who gave details about how Maute and its followers use children aged under 15 as militiamen in daily fighting.
Padilla said the army does everything it can to prevent children from dying, but said that on several occasions soldiers were unable to do much as the insurgents were heavily armed.
The army said that besides forcibly recruiting minors, militants force them to fight against trapped civilians. The army is fighting around 100 insurgents who have control over four neighbourhoods in the Marawi city.
The deaths in the conflict so far has included 379 rebels, 89 soldiers and 39 civilians, according to the latest government data released on Monday. A total of 1,723 civilians were rescued while 260,000 people in Marawi and its surrounding areas were displaced by the violence.
The Marawi crisis began on May 23 when hundreds of Maute militants, supported by other local and foreign militants, took up arms, waving black IS flags and setting fire to a police station, school, prison and a church in the city.
The conflict led Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on the entire island of Mindanao, where some 20 million people live.