While ten years ago the country was a world leader in recruiting child soldiers, in July the government agreed to stop recruiting them and to discharge existing ones. However, it is accused of not enforcing the agreements, especially since age is often being falsified.
[17 November 2012] - Burma recently acknowledged for the first time that there are child soldiers within its military.
In July the government agreed to stop recruiting children and to discharge existing soldiers under the age of 18 years. A joint action plan to do this was signed between the ministry of defence and a UN Task Force.
But as Helen Regan reports the government is accused of not enforcing the agreements and continues to forcibly recruit child soldiers.
Naing Moe Win was forced to leave his family and join the army when he was just 17 years old.
His father Ko Bo Si remembers the day clearly.
“He left home saying he was going to visit Mandalay with a friend. So I thought he was in Mandalay. But he didn’t come home. We searched for him but there was no clue at all about where he was, for five or six months. We couldn’t find him anywhere.”
Naing Moe Win describes what happened.
“Me and two friends were visiting Mandalay. We were at the Mandalay Central Train Station when we were taken by some men. We were kept at a house overnight and taken to the army recruitment center the next day.”
The brokers who took him usually earn 35 US dollars per recruit - three times the monthly wage of an army private.
Naing and his friends were then taken to meet the Sergeant.
When they refused to join the army they were locked up and beaten.
“He came and asked us every day if we have decided to join the army or not. And after about 10 days, we agreed to join up.”
He was sent to a Training Camp for four months with other recruits. He then jointed Battalion 910.
His family only found out where their son was when he was allowed to return home for the weekend.
Daw Ohn Myaing is the mother.
“I found out when he came home after fleeing there. He said he was forced by army personnel to go with them. They threatened him. After that, I went to them, begging in tears, to return him but they refused. They refused to let him go.”
Naing Moe Win’s story is typical.
No one knows the exact number of underage recruits.
But in 2002 Human Rights Watch said as many as 70,000 children were active in the military, making Burma a world leader in recruiting child soldiers.
After his four months training Naing Moe Win was allow to go home on leave.
He refused to return. He was caught and sent back. Nearly a year later he escaped again. He’s now in hiding.
Army offices keep searching for him at his parent’s house, says mother Daw Ohn Myaing.
“My son has nowhere to go as he’s being chased down by the army. I beg you to help me protect my child from being arrested.”
Deserters face imprisonment, beatings and even death.
At the very least they are forced to rejoin the army.
In June the government of Burma vowed to stop recruiting children like Naing Moe Win. It signed a joint action plan with a UN Task Force and promised to release all existing recruits under 18.
In September the government released 42 child soldiers from the army.
But humanitarian agency Child Soldiers Internatoinal says they are covering up the ages of many of their soldiers.
“Whatever the government does in terms of establishing age verification measures, these are nullified by the fact that age is often falsified. So from that point of view it is very important and vital to ensure that accountability mechanisms are established and on-site verification and access to the UN country team, to all military facilities, and to all conflict and contested areas is ensured to ensure there is compliance with the law.”
Until the government guarantees the safe return of child soldiers to their families, many like Naing Moe Win will continue to live in fear of being recaptured and forced to fight.
“I was yet to turn 17 when I was enlisted in the army. I spent over one year there and now I’ve just turned 18. I don’t want to serve in the military. I don’t want to serve in the military and I request to let me go.”
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Last updated 22/11/2012 16:09:22