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Children have been fighting in Myanmar

INDONESIA

Senin, 15 Sep 2014 16:04 WIB

Burma, children, soldiers, civil war, DVB

Underage recruitment is outlawed under both domestic and international law, and yet for decades, the practice has been commonplace in Myanmar.

Sui Khar from the Chin ethnic National Front says it’s an easy way for to build your forces.

“If they want a larger military and only a few people want to serve, then they recruit those who are easy to take or easy to trick. That’s how child soldiers are made.”

In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a joint action plan with the UN to rid its forces of children.

Since then, almost 300 children have been officially released and discharged from the military.

But Burma still ranked eighth worst in the world in the 2014 Child Soldiers Index, and some groups estimate there could be tens of thousands of soldiers who were recruited underage that are still in the military.

Myat Min Thu works with UNICEF. 

“If the child is now over 18 but he was recruited when he was underage, then we ask that child whether he wants to quit or continue.  We give them the freedom of choice.”

Local rights groups say that many of these children don’t know a life outside the military.

Aung Myo Myin is the executive director of Equality Myanmar

“These children have lived under the command of the army. They have been brainwashed to obey. They may express their true feeling to their parents, as they cannot take it anymore. But if they are asked in the army barricks, they will say that they joined of their own free will and that they don’t want to quit and even that they enjoy it. There are so many cases like that.”

Many children who have grown up in poverty are lured into the army with promises of an endless food supply and financial security.

There are now hotlines available for child recruits to call if they want to leave, and the UN task force is working to resettle and rehabilitate those who leave.

Former child soldier Soe Thiha Tun says he is struggling to build a new life.

“As I was taken away in the middle of my high school education, my life was put on hold and I couldn’t become as educated a person as my parents hoped.”

Rights campaigner Aung Myo Myin says people like Soe Thiha Tun will need a lot of support.

“These children are like nails stuck in wood. Even if the nails are dug out, there will be scars left on the wall.”

No one has been been brought punished for forcibly recruiting children into the military or separatist groups.

Benjamin White, who works with the International labour organization says it’s part of a larger problem of impunity in Myanmar.

“I think the use of child soldiers speaks of a general lack of human dignity, a lack of respect for rule of law; and when you have a lack of respect for rule of law, you have a generalised culture of impunity.”

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