By LALIT K JHA / UNITED NATIONS
The Irrawaddy News
Burma remains the most persistent government offender in the world when it comes to the recruitment of child soldiers, says a global report released on Tuesday. The report estimates that thousands of children are recruited into the armed forces.
"The most notable offender remains Myanmar [Burma], whose armed forces, engaged in a long-running counter insurgency operation against a range of ethnic armed groups, are believed to contain thousands of children," said the 2008 Child Soldiers Global Report.
The report, by Coalition to Stop Use of Child Soldiers, studied the issue of child soldiers from 2004 to 2007 and was released at the UN headquarters in New York by its director Dr. Victoria Forbes Adam.
"Thousands of children continued to be recruited and used in the Tatmadaw Kyi (Burmese Army) and in armed political groups, as the army continued its expansion drive and internal armed conflict persisted in some areas of the country," the report said.
"The situation is not getting better," Joe Becker of Human Rights Watch told The Irrawaddy after the report was released.
"As the government plans to expand its army, it is looking for more and more child soldiers," she said.
Burma, the report noted, has officially established age 18 as a minimum age requirement to enlist in the armed forces. "However, in practice, the Tatmadaw forcibly recruited both adults and children through intimidation, coercion and violence," the study said.
While it is difficult to get information from inside Burma, the report said the Defense Services (Army) Officers' Training School in Bahtoo and the tri-services Defense Services Academy (DSA) in Maymyo were the two main officer training schools. The latter accepts high-school dropouts between 16 and 19 years of age for a four-year course, according to the study.
"Recruits underwent physical and combat training, which reportedly proved particularly difficult for the younger children. They also had to work on farms or at other business ventures of officers," it said.
The report said that after training, these children are used as guards at checkpoints, porters, cleaners and spies, and in active combat. Once deployed, they are at risk of attack, malnutrition and disease.
"The younger boys were sometimes kept at the base and acted as officers' servants, sentries or clerks. Child soldiers witnessed or participated in counter-insurgency activities such as the destruction of villages and crops," said the report.
According to the study, several ceasefire groups and armed groups allied to the Burmese junta were also reported to recruit and use child soldiers. Prominent among them are the Karen National Union-Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU-KNLA PC); the United Wa State Army (UWSA); the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); the Kachin Independence Army (KIA); and the Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF).