Sunday, November 22, 2009

Children’s Rights Celebrated in Naypyidaw

By WAI MOE Friday, November 20, 2009
The Burmese military junta celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Universal Convention on Children’s Rights on Friday in Naypyidaw.

The ceremony surprised many people in the human rights community because the junta is often cited as one of the world’s worst regimes in violating the rights of children. The army is regularly accused of conscripting child soldiers.

A non-binding resolution approved on Thursday by the UN Assembly’s Third Committee called on the Burmese government to end the recruitment of child soldiers and “to intensify measures to ensure the protection of children from armed conflict.”

The UN committee called on the junta to cooperate with the UN special representative for Children and Armed Conflict by granting access to areas where child soldiers are recruited.

According to a report by the US State Department: “Urban poor and street children in Rangoon and Mandalay are at risk of involuntary conscription as child soldiers by the Burmese junta. Thousands of children are forced to serve in Burma’s national army as desertions of men in the army rise. Some children were threatened with jail if they did not agree to join the army.”

The Burmese army has an estimated 70,000 child soldiers, one of the highest percentages in the world, according to rights’ groups. Some are as young as 11 years old. Non-state armed groups also recruit thousands of children as soldiers.

The exile-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), which monitors children’s rights in the country, claimed that the junta recently used child soldiers in military offensives against ethnic minorities.

In a statement on Nov. 9, the group said the military offensive by the regime in the Kokang area of northeastern Burma and Karen State underscored the gravity of the situation.

“Celebrating the convention on children’s rights means respecting child rights,” said Aung Myo Min, the coordinator of HREIB. “The event in Naypyidaw seems to be a showcase without meaning since the Burmese junta has failed to collaborate with the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict for four years.”

He said that according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the number of child soldiers in Burma is increasing.

Other abuses involving Burmese children occur in the areas of child labor, human trafficking, healthcare and education.

There are no official statistics on child labor in the country. However, the ILO has estimated that more than 1.1 million Burmese children are economically active. Child laborers are noticeable on the streets and in teashops and markets in Burmese cities.

Burma has one of world’s poorest health care systems. The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has said that infant mortality in the country is unusually high, with one out of 10 live births resulting in death.

“Malnutrition is widespread among children under five with about one-third of children severely or moderately stunted and underweight,” according to UNICEF.

The UN says that less than 55 percent of children in Burma complete primary school.

Rights groups say Burmese children work as forced laborers in dangerous jobs in Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Korea, Macau and Japan. Oftentimes, the children are exploited in the sex industry.

Independent researchers estimate that at least 20,000 Burmese children work in Thailand alone.

“Burmese children in Thailand are subjected to conditions of forced labor as hawkers, beggars, and for work in shops, agriculture, fish processing and other small-scale industries,” said the US State Department in its “Trafficking in Persons Report 2009.”

“Trafficking in girls for the purpose of prostitution persisted as a major problem, particularly in urban areas. Burma is [also] a destination country for child sex tourism,” the report said.