Prayer for Burma: Child soldiers

The military regime in Burma is believed to be the worst user of child soldiers in the world. Thousands of children serve in the Tatmadaw. Extensive “recruitment drives” including forcable conscrption  of children are needed make up for the very high rates of desertion and absence of volunteers. Six reports to the UN Security Council have since 2002 identified the regime as one of the worst violators of children’s rights in this way.

In 2005 the UN Security Council addressed the issue, among other measures:

The Council also reaffirmed its intention to consider imposing, through country-specific resolutions, targeted and graduated measures, such as a ban on the export and supply of small arms and light weapons and of other military equipment, against parties to armed conflicts on the agenda of the Council and in violation of applicable international law relating to the rights and protection of children in armed conflict.
(See Press Release SC/8458)

Yet the dictators in Naypyidaw continue to pressgang children. The International Herald Tribune yesterday, under the title “Child soldiers and the China factor” featured the story of one of them:

Myin Win was 11 years old when he was first recruited into Burma’s national army. He was picked up by soldiers while selling vegetables at a railway station and sent to a military training camp. He weighed only 70 pounds, or about 32 kilograms, and said that the guns were so heavy he could hardly lift them.He was able to escape, but was recruited a second time at the age of 14. This time he tried to negotiate. “I’ll give you money,” he said to the lance corporal. The recruiter replied, “I don’t want your money.” Myin Win said, “I’ll call my mother and she can vouch for me.” The soldier told him, “I don’t want to see your mother or father and I don’t want money. I want you to join the army.”

Myin Win was sent to training again and, while still only 14, deployed into ethnic minority areas where he was ordered to burn down houses and capture civilians. “We were ordered that if we see anyone, including women and children, then we must approach and catch them and take them to our officers for interrogation,” he said. “If they try to run, shoot them.”

According to the article the UN has been successful in reducing the problem elsewhere:

The approach to Burma is in stark contrast to the Security Council working group’s tough – and effective – approach to other perpetrators like Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Last year the Security Council threatened sanctions against the Tamil Tigers for the group’s use of child soldiers during Sri Lanka’s two-decade-long civil war, and gave a six-month deadline for action. It worked. Reports of child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers dropped from 1,090 in 2004 to 26 in the first six months of this year.

In other cases, the Security Council has also obtained results. In Ivory Coast, it pushed government and rebel forces to adopt action plans to end child recruitment; the practice has now been abandoned in that country. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it referred information on violations to sanctions committees and urged the arrest and prosecution of commanders responsible for child recruitment. Although some child recruitment continues in the country, an estimated 30,000 child soldiers have been released or demobilized since 2003.

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