by Ring Aung & Htoo Htoo San
KNG, 30 Jul'08 - He said that he came from a very poor family and at the age of seven or nine, he started working. While he was on the way to sell garden produce in Rangoon, he was recruited.
“I lost my travel pass from the ward leader, and at Bago railway station and some soldiers came on board and asked everyone for ID cards. I realized I'd lost my recommendation letter, and they took me in. The same day they sent me to the Mingaladon Su Saun Yay in handcuffs”.
The Burmese government claims that its army is an all-volunteer force and the minimum age for recruitment is 18. However the New York based HRW testified in the report that the majority of new recruits are conscripts, and that a large number of them are children.
The HRW report findings are confirmed by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) deputy Director Mike Paller who says “Thousands of children throughout Burma continue to be recruited into the Burmese Army. They are recruited while going to school or the market, while waiting for the buses or trains, or simply while hanging out with friends”.
Mike Paller says “Children are attractive recruits because they have long-term investment potential and they are susceptible to intimidation”.
Despite international pressure on the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to stop recruiting and using child soldiers, the SPDC has been continuously violating child rights to recruit or use child soldiers in its army, says Mike Paller.
“Although there is a lot of pressure on the SPDC to stop recruiting and using child soldiers, evidence suggests that children are still being recruited and used in Burma's armed forces”.
Unfortunately, the military regime has not made enough progress with regard to putting an end to this grave violation of child rights.
The SPDC said in a letter sent to the HRW on September 2007 that they have formed a committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Child Soldiers and preventing forced recruitment of under-age children as soldiers and ensuring adherence to orders and instructions issued for the protection of under-age children.
In spite of the SPDC letter the recruitment of child soldiers continue.
HRW's World Report in 2008 found “The recruitment of children into the armed forces continues as a result of high desertion rates and chronic understaffing. Recruiters and civilian brokers used coercion, threats, and physical force to recruit children as young as 10”.
Several ethnic armed groups are still fighting against the SPDC, and some have alliance with them. And they have continually recruited and used child soldiers although the numbers were much lower than the Burmese Army, according to the HRW's world report and Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 by the Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEACSUCS).
Most ethnic armed groups denied recruiting of children into the army and use of child soldiers.
David Taw, a spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU) says, “We have a policy not to recruit children into the army and we take action against soldiers who flout the order”.
He continued that the KNU has an agreement with the international community not to use child soldiers in the army and the KNU invites them to investigate whether the KNU uses child soldiers.
The Shan State Army says they also have a policy against recruitment of child soldiers.
“We don't have a policy to recruit children into the army,” says Sai Hseng Merng, a spokesperson for Shan State Army (SSA). “We even let orphans attend school and open schools for them”.
The SSA says it recruits soldiers between the ages of 18 and 45. The SSA has also invited the international community to investigate their army regarding the use of child soldiers. The SSA-South is fighting against the SPDC to achieve autonomy for Shan State.
Khu Oo Re, a spokesperson of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) says “We are sure that there are no child soldiers in our army and we don't have a policy to recruit children into the army. Even adults join the army voluntarily”.
“We have already released a statement thrice regarding the use of child soldiers in the army and we invite the international community to investigate if we are using child soldiers,” added Khu Oo Re.
The KNPP, based along the Thai-Burma border, was founded in 1955 to secure independence from the Burmese state.
While most ethnic groups denied the use of child soldiers in its armies, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been quoted in the HRW report, “Sold to be Soldiers” as saying that the KIA and its political arm the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) have no formal policy on child soldiers.
“We have child soldiers but not intentionally. We do not purposely mobilize children. In many cases child soldiers come and ask to join the KIA because they are from poor families. There is no minimum age in the KIA,” said a senior KIA officer.
According to Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 by SEACSUCS, “an unknown number of former child soldiers continue to flee to Thailand after deserting from the Burmese Army. But as fast as the children desert, agents and brokers working for the army recruit replacements”.