10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

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
Photo: Flickr