Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest armed group, ends recruitment of children as part of peace plan.
Hundreds of child soldiers have been released by the Philippines' main separatist rebel group, continuing its commitment to end the recruitment and use of children within its ranks.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), one of the most powerful armed groups in the country, released the children on Friday as part of an action plan with the UN.
Reporting from the disengagement ceremony in Lanao del Sur, Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan said Friday's release did not happen overnight.
"This is something that started eight years ago," she said. "It required a lot of ground work, a lot of investigations, a lot of re-education, not just of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but also of parents who have had their children exposed to combat."
The first in a series of disengagement ceremonies took place in February and the group will eventually disengage more than 1,800 children, according to UNICEF.
Some of the children fought on the front line with the group, but the majority performed tasks as couriers and support staff.
Richard Heydarian, a professor of political science in Manila, told Al Jazeera it is important to remember that many of these child soldiers were born into the conflict.
"We have to keep in mind that this is not like South Sudan or Sierra Leone ... where you have these children ripped apart from their family and forcibly coerced to become child soldiers," he said.
"Many of these children are actually very much part of the fabric of the community that has been supporting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front."
The Islamic group, based on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, has fought for succession for decades, routinely recruiting and using children within its ranks, according to UNICEF.
Al Jazeera's Alindogan said Friday's ceremony shows the sincerity of the MILF in making sure the "third and fourth generation of children are not going to end up with the same fate as their parents and grandparents".
The children who are released will be offered scholarships to finish school, as well as support from the government and NGOs for full integration back into society.
"The release of children from the MILF is only the beginning of the next phase of their youth. The next step is to ensure that these children receive support," UNICEF's country representative Lotta Sylwander said last month.
Example for other armed groups
The number of child soldiers in the Philippines remains unknown. Mindanao is home to a number of armed groups who use and recruit combatants under the age of 18, according to the UN.
- Published in Top Stories