Thursday, January 28, 2010

Burmese Soldiers Still Recruit Underage Youth

By LAWI WENG Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Burmese army is still recruiting underage youth despite the government's agreement with the UN that such practices would stop.

In the latest incident, Kyaw Min Tun, 14, was conscripted by a soldier in Light Infantry Battalion No. 83, based in Migaungye in Taungdwingyi Township in Magway Division.

His mother, San Thar Win, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that her son was taken to the battalion on Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. She said a soldier from the battalion persuaded him to join by saying he would receive a 60,000 kyat (US $60) monthly salary.

She has asked the battalion to release her son, she said, but the military has not complied.

Meanwhile, Aye Myint, a leading labor activist in Pegu Division, said that two other underage youths were taken to the same battalion this month. His group, Guiding Star, works on issues involving child recruitment and forced labor.

The group received 121 recruitment complaints last year, but only about one-third of the youth were released, he said.

He said that the Burmese government should punished soldiers who recruit underage youth. Government officials have signed an agreement with the International Labour Organization to stop such recruitment but soldiers in the field continue the practice, he said.

Meanwhile, the Burmese military government has extended an agreement allowing the UN to monitor complaints of underage recruitment for one more year.

Kari Tapiola, the executive director of the ILO in Geneva, told The Irrawaddy by e-mail that the overall number of underage recruitment complaints has increased.

The forced recruitment of children into the military is a problem which has been recognized at a high level. According to the “Annual Report of the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict” in March last year, the Burmese junta “continues to screen and release underage children found in its armed forces during the training process.”

The report said the ILO, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross, was instrumental in the release of 12 underage recruits and had verified the release of 23 children “mostly from involuntary military enrollment.” It was waiting for a government response in 14 other cases.

The UN said in its latest report on the situation that the military is still recruiting child soldiers.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that 70,000 underage soldiers are serving in the Burmese armed forces.

Human rights groups say children are recruited at train stations, bus depots, teahouses, video halls and movie cinemas, and even while walking home at night. The groups say the youth are sometimes threatened and beaten if they refuse to agree to undergo military training. After their training, many are sent to areas where the military is in conflict with ethnic groups.