Burma Still Using Child Soldiers

A rights group calls for Burma to take bigger steps to end underage military recruitment.
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Phyo Sithu,  a former child soldier in the Burmese military, with his mother following his release from prison, Sept. 2, 2011.
Phyo Sithu, a former child soldier in the Burmese military, with his mother following his release from prison, Sept. 2, 2011.

Burma is not moving fast enough to end the use of child soldiers in its military, a rights group said in a new report Wednesday, calling for “profound reforms” in the country’s powerful armed forces.

The military is still recruiting children to work in the armed forces even though the government signed an agreement with the U.N. last year to strive to end the practice, the London-based Child Solders International said in its report.

Child Soldiers International’s Director Richard Clarke urged President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian administration, which has undertaken a series of reforms since taking over two years ago after decades of brutal military rule, to give the issue of ridding the child soldiers’ problem a top priority.

“Political reforms have led to some progress in the security and human rights situation in Myanmar [Burma],” Clarke said in a statement.

“The Myanmar [Burmese] government and the international community need to ensure that protection of children in armed conflict is provided the highest priority in this reform agenda.”

Burmese military

The level of recruitment of child soldiers in the military has decreased, but it has failed to adopt effective safeguards to prevent the practice, the report said.

“Recruitment of children by the Tatmadaw Kyi is ongoing, albeit on a reduced scale,” the report said, using the Burmese name for the military.

“Despite recent progress, the situation is not improving as it might.”

Corruption, weak oversight, impunity, and a persistent emphasis on increasing troop numbers have contributed to high rates of recruitment of underage fighters, it said.

Efforts to prevent the practice —including introducing age verification mechanisms to counter age falsification—will require “profound reforms” to the armed forces, it said.

In June 2012, Burma signed a Joint Action Plan with the U.N. to end the use of child soldiers, and at least 42 underage recruits have been released since then.

But in order to cooperate on monitoring child soldiers in the country, Burma needs to allow the U.N. access to recruitment centers, military camps, and training centers, Child Soldiers International said.

Border guard forces

Children are also present in the ranks of Burma’s border guard forces, which have no program to demobilize child soldiers or to verify the ages of their recruits, according to the report.

It warned that newly formed border guard battalions have been allowed to follow recruitment practices which lack basic safeguards to exclude children.

The border guard forces, under the command of the military, are made up of armed rebel groups that have agreed to be incorporated into the military after signing peace agreements with Burma’s government.

The government has been waging war against several armed ethnic groups since the country’s independence in 1948.

Rebel armies

Child Soldiers International’s report also raised concerns about rebel Karen armies that were until recently fighting against the Burmese military in eastern Burma.

The Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA, formerly the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) have issued instructions ending child recruitment, but children are associated with the groups both formally and informally, the report said.

The two armies also lack age verification procedures to prevent the practice, it said.

Last year’s ceasefire between Karen groups and the Burmese government has opened up opportunities for the release of child soldiers, but the government has hindered their release by blocking U.N. access to the groups, it said.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.





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