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Too early to judge Burma’s progress in eliminating child soldiers: report

Despite important political and security developments in Burma, it is too early to judge whether a new action plan will impact on long-standing violation of children’s rights, said a newly released report by Child Soldiers International. It is hoped the plan is the starting point for the development of effective prevention strategies, said the report.

Ethnic soldiers from at an outpost in Kachin State. Photo:  AFP
Ethnic soldiers from at an outpost in Kachin State. Photo:  AFP 
Recruitment of boys under age 18 by the army in Burma continues to take place in violation of domestic law, the report said.

While the precise number of children in the army’s ranks is unknown, the report said levels of reported cases of child recruitment suggest that they are high: 243 complaints of underage recruitment were reported in 2011 and 24 cases of underage recruitment were verified in the first three months of 2012.

In the context of widespread poverty, youth unemployment and lack of education and training opportunities, some boys lie about their age in order to enlist, it said; however, the dominant pattern is of forced recruitment.

The report said military recruitment of children is in large part a by-product of the pressures to meet recruitment targets and a lack of willing adult recruits.

This has led to the emergence of an informal network of civilian brokers who are paid in cash or kind for bringing in recruits. Where individual cases of underage recruitment have been brought to the military’s attention it has resulted in them being demobilized, but the authorities have so far been unwilling to address the systemic problem of economic incentives that drive the practice of forced recruitment of children, the report said.

Age verification must be reinforced by effective oversight and accountability. Again, some measures have been taken but they are insufficient to address the nature and scale of the problem, it said.

A complaints mechanism on forced labour established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2007 in Burma provides a route through which parents and other concerned parties can seek the release of unlawfully recruited children. The mechanism has had some notable successes in resolving individual cases but is not a substitute for proactive monitoring, including regular, independent, on-site verification of military facilities to ensure compliance with the law, the report said.

In this regard, restricted access to UN monitors to conflict-affected areas and to military facilities has hampered independent international oversight.

The lack of an independent, impartial judiciary in Burma remains a contributing obstacle to addressing accountability for such crimes.

Reports indicate that processes initiated in 2009 to merge former armed opposition groups into units of the Border Guard Forces (BGF, a paramilitary unit under the command of the army) have not involved the demobilization of children.

Some of the groups that transformed into BGF units have been listed in the UN Secretary-General’s report annexes as having children in their ranks. These include the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), about which there are continuing reports of forcible recruitment of children.10

In addition to BGF units, dozens of local militia groups are allied with the government, thereby placing a responsibility on the government to take steps to ensure that these groups do not recruit or use children. They include the Kachin Defence Army, Mong Tai Army Homein, Pao National Organization, Rawang Militia (formerly known as the Rebellion Resistance Force), Brigades 3 and 7 of the Shan State Army–North and the Pansay Militia. None are “listed” by the UN as having children in their ranks, but there are allegations of child recruitment by some of these militia groups.

The Tatmadaw Kyi was first listed in the annexes to the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict in 2003 as having unlawfully recruited and used child soldiers and it has been named in every annual report since (the BGF was included alongside the Tatmadaw Kyi in 2011). It was not until 2007 that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General obtained a commitment from the government that it would work with UNICEF to finalise an action plan to prevent underage recruitment.

Five years on the action plan has now been signed. But this is the beginning and not the end of a process that will require a significant commitment of resources by the national authorities and by the UN to ensure that real protection from unlawful military recruitment and use of children is achieved.

As a next step, the government must ratify the Optional Protocol and seek support for its effective implementation from UN child rights bodies, other child rights experts and second states as appropriate, said the report.

The UN must dedicate adequate resources to supporting both the implementation of the action plan and the Optional Protocol when adopted, said the report.

For a full copy of the report, go to
Last Updated ( Monday, 01 October 2012 14:13 )  

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