Children, exploitation and guerrilla warfare have become an unfortunate triad all too familiar amongst the people of Myanmar. A country rife with decades of internal armed conflict, the nation relies on the recruitment of underage Myanmar child soldiers into its national army, Tatmadaw Kyi, to help supply ethnic wars with manpower.
Who and What
The children’s purpose? According to Hope for the Nations, the youths are needed to serve and “defend the drug lords of the area at the cost of losing their parents, families, homes and even their own lives.” In fact, some children are recruited and trained at the mere age of 6.
An excerpt from a compilation of personal accounts from former Myanmar child soldiers reads: “Living under armed guard, Arkar Min received one meal a day—a bowl of rice with some oil and salt. He had no bed and slept on the concrete, using his lungi as a pillow. There were six other conscripts, most of them 15; the eldest was 17. None of them had joined voluntarily—they’d been offered work, hoodwinked, kidnapped, and sold into service.”
The Why: Political Instability
It’s near impossible to look at these human rights violations of Myanmar’s youth without looking at the country’s political climate. Following the 1948 breakaway from the United Kingdom, the nation was ignited in upheaval and political turbulence. One of the major causes of these debilitating occurrences was the ethnic minority groups who were unable to compromise on the multi-faceted dilemma of sharing political power. An overwhelming surge of battles erupted between indigenous groups, which led to the enlistment of their vulnerable youth in armies as a chance to seize power.
State armed forces eventually acquired power in 1962, and Myanmar fell under even greater distress. A corrupt and oppressive military dictatorship reigned for virtually 50 years, failing to condemn or control ethnic wars and child soldier recruitment and exploitation. Luckily, 2011 brought hope to the nation when the military handed over power to a civilian government.
A Breach In Corruption
The nation’s established civilian government has brought sought-upon relief to countless families, citizens and children. Not only has the government advanced the national armed forces to more professional levels, but it has also released hundreds of underage children who were wrongfully recruited into war.
The U.N. estimates that thousands of people have been displaced as a result of internal conflict and fighting. According to Aljazeera, in 2015 the military released 146 underage recruits; since its agreement with the U.N. to end the recruitment of children into the military, 699 have been released.
Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar stated, “I am delighted to see these children and young people returning to their homes and families. We are hopeful that institutional checks that have been put in place and continued efforts will ensure that recruitment of children will exist no more.”
Hope For the Youth
There exist many initiatives that aim to eradicate the exploitation of Myanmar child soldiers. Project AK-47, for example, reaches child soldiers and brings them from hopelessness to hopefulness and care. Planting themselves in highly regulated and classified regions of Southeast Asia, members of the Project provide the oppressed youth with basic needs like shelter, food, clothing and education, as well as deeper needs like spiritual care and love.
The utmost goal of Project AK-47 aims to mentor the children into becoming leaders within their own communities. According to Hope for the Nations, some of them will end up as teachers, government leaders, or even workers on tea plantations. It is vital that they are taught how to create a positive impact amongst their own communities and regions, and to carry the spirit of excellence with them wherever they may go.
Positive Redirection and Potential Solutions
Following in line with hopeful solutions, Myanmar’s November 2015 Parliamentary election ensued a large victory for the National League of Democracy. So much so that citizens remain hopeful that their new government will mend the country’s broken human rights situation. This is the time where advocacy will ring strong, and where advocates’ voices of concern will hold ground with developing governments.
A unified voice from the world and from native citizens to remove children from army ranks is a push in the right direction. According to Child Soldiers International, advocates “will be engaging with the national authorities and civil society to see Myanmar opt in fully to the relevant international laws and ensure that domestic laws that prohibit child recruitment are fully observed.” The ultimate goal is loud and clear: to protect the rights of Myanmar’s voiceless youth is to eradicate the recruitment and the exploitation of underage children within the military.
– Mary Miller