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Eight child soldiers freed in Kachin State, says ILO

Kachin rebels released eight child soldiers captured and held as prisoners of war, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Thursday.

An underage recruit wears the Burmese army shoulder patch insignia of the 707th Artillery Operations Command based in Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Division. Photo: MizzimaThe ILO acted as an intermediary between the government and the rebels in the release of the soldiers in the northern state of Kachin, according to a report by AFP.

“This led to the release of eight underage recruits by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) who were held by the KIA as prisoners of war,” said the ILO's Rangoon liaison officer, Steve Marshall.

Despite President Thein Sein's reforms and the signing of a joint action plan to tackle the issue of child soldiers in June 2012, children are still being recruited in Burma by both the army and insurgency groups, said Child Soldiers International, a London-based advocacy group, in a report released on Wednesday.

“Political reforms have led to some progress in the security and human rights situation in Myanmar,” says Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International. “The Myanmar government and the international community need to ensure that protection of children in armed conflict is provided the highest priority in this reform agenda.”
Forty-two underage recruits have been discharged from government forces since the joint action plan was signed, according to the ILO and state media.

“The Myanmar Peace Center set up by the government and supported by the international community, is in a unique position to ensure that protection of children is made an integral part of on-going negotiations with armed groups,” says Clarke. “The opportunity to ensure durable protection of children will be lost if these negotiations do not result in independent access by the UN and other humanitarian agencies, which is a vital first step to verify and release children from these groups and prevent future recruitment,” Clarke added.

The Myanmar Peace Center refused to comment on the claims of the continuing recruitment of children when Mizzima contacted them on Thursday.

In 2002, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report named Burma as the country with the highest amount of child soldiers in the world. HRW announced in a March 2012 report that thousands of boys still serve in Burma’s national army, with children as young as 11 forcibly recruited off the streets and sent into combat operations for both the government and armed rebel groups.

International Law prohibits children under-15 from being recruited—to do so is recognized as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 24 January 2013 18:54 )  

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