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Myanmar failing to end recruitment of child soldiers

Human Rights Watch warns December target to end practice unlikely

  • Daniel Wynn and John Zaw, Yangon and Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • May 29, 2013
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A year after signing an agreement with the United Nations, Myanmar is failing to make significant progress towards ending recruitment of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The agreement with the UN states that the national military and rebel groups would aim to end the mobilization of child soldiers by December.

“Unless Burma kick-starts the process immediately, it will be too late to make good on its pledge,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Myanmar’s reformist government agreed to register all children in its forces by November last year and release them from service by December.

But the registration process is “far from complete”, HRW said, and the Myanmar military has failed to remove incentives to fulfill unit quotas that encourage child recruitment.

On at least four occasions, Myanmar’s armed forces have also refused UN access to military facilities.

“The Burmese army is not only dragging its feet in ending its use of child soldiers, but is also obstructing the UN from doing its job to verify its efforts,” said Becker. “On this basis alone the Security Council should hand the government a failing grade on its promised progress.”

Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a report to the UN Security Council noting continued incidents of child recruitment “and other grave violations” by the national armed forces and ethnic rebel groups.

Between April 2009 and December last year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) confirmed 770 cases of underage recruitment in Myanmar including children as young as 10 years old. Only 66 children were released from the state military during this period, the ILO added.

Ye Htut, Myanmar’s presidential spokesman, said that the UN had noted improvements in tackling the recruitment of children.

“But the issue has not been totally sorted out and still persists on the part of the Tatmadaw (national armed forces) and ethnic armed groups. We are cooperating with the UN to resolve this,” he said.

For years, the national army and rebel groups which mainly operate on the periphery of the country have employed child soldiers as civil wars have raged in many areas, particularly on Myanmar’s borders with China and Thailand.

Since President Thein Sein took office in March 2011, ceasefires have been agreed with groups including the Karen National Union (KNU), while fighting in northern Kachin State has escalated.

KNU spokesman Saw Kwe Htoo Win said that under-18s were not accepted into its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army. In the past, the UN has claimed that the group had recruited child soldiers.

The Kachin Independence Army, the only rebel group currently fighting government forces, was repeatedly unavailable for comment.

Sai La, a spokesman for the Shan State Army (SSA) which operates in pockets of the northeast of the country, said they still accepted children, but only orphans or those who could not afford to attend school.

“But we don’t recruit any children for military purposes and we don’t persuade children by force to enter the army,” he said.

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