Myanmar Army Says Child Soldiers Are ‘Incidents of The Past’ Despite Critical UN Report

myanmar-former-child-soldier-aung-ko-htway-aug-2017.jpg Aung Ko Htway, who was abducted when he was a teenager and forced to serve in the Myanmar army for nearly 10 years, leaves his clothing shop in Kalaware village, Thanlyin township, in the suburbs of Yangon, August 2017.

A United Nations report on children and armed conflict issued Tuesday takes Myanmar to task for its failures to prevent the recruitment of children by the military in 2018 and to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.

The report highlights global trends of the impact of armed conflict on children and provides detailed information on violations committed in various countries from January to December 2018.

“Though efforts are under way, full compliance is yet to be achieved, and aggravated cases of new recruitment occurred in 2018, with no progress on accountability,” the report concluded about Myanmar, which has a long record of child soldier use.

Both the Myanmar military and nonstate ethnic armed groups have continued to recruit child soldiers and force them to fight in armed conflicts, the report said.

The government army recruited seven new child soldiers in 2018 and used 64 child soldiers for fighting, while ethnic armies, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) recruited 17 minors to serve in their regiments.

In addition, despite U.N. advocacy, an appeal is ongoing regarding the charges against detained former child soldier Aung Ko Htway, who was forcibly recruited by the Myanmar military in 2005 and sentenced to two years imprisonment after he told his story to RFA’s Myanmar Service, the report said.

During a visit to Myanmar in May 2018, Virginia Gamba, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for children and armed conflict, stressed the need for a speedier implementation of the joint action plan the country signed with the U.N. in 2012 to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers.

Gamba also urged the government to ensure that no new child recruitment violations would occur, to expedite the age assessment of recruits, to release suspected minors whose cases were pending, and to stop detaining children for desertion or for being absent without leave.

‘Incidents of the past’

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the figures cited in the report pertained to former child soldiers and minors who had reached the age of majority, and insisted that the army is no longer engaging in the forbidden practice.

“In our military policy regarding child soldiers, there are directives not to recruit child soldiers,” he told RFA. “There were former child soldiers. There are those above the age of majority now, but they are allowed to quit voluntarily.”

“But all these are incidents of the past,” he said, adding that the military has always cooperated with families of underage recruits once the children were discovered to be below the age of majority.

“We also take action against child soldier recruiters,” he said, though he did not elaborate.

Zaw Min Tun said that the military also had released some child soldiers or terminated their service while they were members of the armed forces.

The Myanmar military released 75 children and young people recruited as child soldiers in 2018, the U.N. report said, noting a steady progress in addressing a backlog of cases from previous years.

Nyi Rem, spokesman of the Wa National Unity Party in Lashio, northern Shan State, said some regiments of the ethnic United Wa State Army (UWSA) provide free education to local children who are required to wear uniforms in the classroom, although they are not child soldiers.

“The children wearing uniforms in our camps are actually students at our school,” he told RFA. “We look after children who have gotten into trouble and provide them with an education. They are not child soldiers.”

Khine Thukha, spokesman for the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting government troops in western Myanmar Rakhine and Chin states, said the ethnic Rakhine military does not recruit child soldiers.

RFA was unable to reach the KIA and TNLA for comment.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported in March that the Myanmar military had released nearly 960 children and young people since 2012.

Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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