‘I Miss Him So Much I Cry’

A Burmese mother describes her son's recruitment into the junta's armed forces.
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Child soldier in Burma near the border with Thailand, Jan. 31, 2002.
Child soldier in Burma near the border with Thailand, Jan. 31, 2002.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, the Burmese regime may have the largest number of child soldiers in the world—with thousands swept up in massive recruitment drives. Some are as young as 10, Human Rights Watch says, their enlistment papers routinely falsified to indicate their ages as 18 or older. The United Nations Secretary General has cited Burma six times since 2002 in reports to the Security Council as among the world’s worst perpetrators of child recruitment. Tin Aung Khine spoke with Daw Kyway in October 2008 about the recruitment of her 14-year-old son, Ye Lin Htet , into the junta’s armed forces:

“My son…left the house and went for a ride on the Rangoon circular train from the main Rangoon station. While they were on the train, the ticket conductor came and grabbed their bag. Because they are only children, they ran. And when they arrived back at the main Rangoon station, Corporal Khin Maung Sint took them to Pa-an city.”

“My son went with four of his friends, and one of them came back and told me that my son was taken away by a soldier at the Rangoon main station. They didn’t know the name, just that the person was a plump man and had a paunch. When I went to ask those people, they said they didn’t take him away. After awhile, they admitted that my son was taken away by a person whose name was Khin Maung Sint to Pa-an city. From Pa-an, he was sent to Thaton city.”

As a parent, I am concerned and worried about his health, because I don’t know whether he is well or not."

Daw Kyway

“We made enquiries at the Rangoon main railway station. I went there myself to make the enquiries. When I asked questions, at first, they denied that my son was taken away. I tried to approach them by giving them tea at the teashop. They didn’t admit it for quite some time. Only afterwards, I went and met with this person, Corporal Khin Maung Sint. He admitted that he had taken my son and that he was kept at his house. He said my son was underweight, about 85 pounds. I tried to sweet-talk him to get some information from them, and he became friendly with me. He then said that his major had come to his house and asked if there was anybody who would like to become a soldier. He said that my son replied that he wanted to be a soldier. So he took him and enlisted him at the Thaton army unit…When he was taken away he was not yet 15 years old.”

'He looked scared'

“I went and saw him in Thaton. When I went and saw him then, I asked him if he would like to come back home with me. He said no. He said no, but afterwards ... you see, the place where we met was in a small room, and there were 3 soldiers. They went and brought my son and when I saw him, I cried, of course, and I asked my son if he would come back with me. My son said no. Afterwards, I noticed that he looked as if he was afraid of something. And in front of the child, the soldiers said that if he ran away, he should know what happens to those who ran away, how they get beaten, and that he has seen them himself. The child looked really scared, and tears started to fall from his eyes. I had to leave crying, after that.

“His face didn’t look as he would look at home. He looked different, as if he was afraid and scared.”

“Three people came to my house. When they came, they said that they were from the Ministry of Health. So, I asked them that if they were from the Ministry of Health, how is health related to this matter? When I asked them that, they said that they had received a phone call and were doing what they have been asked to do. One of them said that he has come to ask for Ye Lin Htet’s birth certificate and census registration certificate. When he asked me for them, I told him that I didn’t have them as I had given all of that to the ILO office…They must think that a false report had been made about my son. They seem to be saying that I had lied that my son is under-age.”

Constant worry

“When they came the second time, they came with the chairman [of the local ward]. He said that we were making a big thing out of a small matter. Also that we were running up the wrong tree…I wanted to ask him how he could say that having a son gone missing could be such a small matter, but I refrained from saying it because he was with the soldiers, and that would embarrass him. They said that they were from Battalion 555.”

“They said that my son could be released in about two weeks, only when they get the documents, and if they don’t get the documents, they said that he will be… They just cut the sentence short there. They said that if they get the documents quickly, my son could be released quickly.”

“…My expectations are for me to help my son finish his schooling and after that he can decide what he wants to do. That is what I would want. Right now, I cannot accept it. I want my son to be released quickly. As a parent, I am concerned and worried about his health, because I don’t know whether he is well or not. At night, I miss him so much I cry.”

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Edited and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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