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Child Soldiers in Myanmar's front line||
By Marianne Bray
June 15, 2001
KONG, China (CNN) -- Myanmar has the world's highest number of child
soldiers, with children as young as seven years old working as human
shields, sex slaves and fighters.
The southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, has 50,000
child soldiers working for both government and opposition armies,
according to a report released Tuesday by the Coalition to Stop the
Use of Child Soldiers.
"In Burma the situation is unique because the desire for more
independence from the government goes along with armed ethnic groups
struggling to identify themselves in various locations," Judit
Arenas, spokesperson for the Coalition told CNN.
"This makes it one of the worst and most complicated situations
around the world."
Myanmar won independence from Britain in 1948 and has been ruled
by the military in various guises since 1962.
In 1988 the military crushed a pro-democracy uprising and in 1990
refused to recognize elections that gave the main opposition party,
the National League for Democracy, a landslide victory.
The political stalemate has continued for over a decade. NLD
leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has lived
under house arrest on and off for several years and the military
often detains opposition members.
While Myanmar's army has a compulsory recruitment age of 18 years
old, many young children are being enlisted to fight in battles
raging across the country.
The "God's Army", a breakaway Karen group led by two 12-year-old
twins, focused world attention on the plight of child soldiers
fighting for ethnic armed groups when they took over 700 hostages in
a Thailand hospital in 2000.
While some children are recruited voluntarily for Myanmar's armed
forces, others, especially orphans and street children are
vulnerable to what is called "forced recruitment."
Under this scheme, local authorities in Myanmar are required to
provide the government with a certain quota of recruits, the report
says, and are fined if they fail.
"A lot of these children are street children, they won't stand up
and complain," said Arenas.
"Children are scared so easily, they are very obedient, and they
are very good for this type of guerrilla warfare as they are small,
very agile on feet, and can get into places, grown-up soldiers
The ILO Commission has reported that children act as human
shields and minesweepers. They also carry ammunition and fight on
the front lines. Girls are being raped by soldiers, the ILO adds.
The former U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, Rajsooner Lallah,
has slammed the country's torturing, trafficking and forced labor of
Children are also used as soldiers outside the army, for
opposition groups such as the Mong Tai Army and the Karen National
While many opposition forces have accepted ceasefires with the
government, others control their territory with arms and breakaway
forces continue to fight against the government.
"There is the tribal struggle, with some ethnic groups having the
right to patrol territories and carry arms," Arenas told CNN.
The Mong Tai Army is believed to have the largest number of child
soldiers, with one son required from each family. Children in Shan
State receive education in exchange for military service later.
The KNU guerrillas led by young twins, Johnny and Luther Htoo, is
believed to recruit many children, although the twins themselves
surrendered and returned to live with their parents.
Myanmar's record comes despite the U.N. General Assembly adopting
a protocol in May 2000 calling on governments to prevent anyone
under 18 from taking part in combat.
But the UN says while 79 countries have signed the protocol, only
six have ratified it.
The child soldier report comes one day after U.S.-based Human
Rights Watch condemned Myanmar for still using forced labor, despite
an official ban on the practice imposed eight months ago.
The group has urged foreign companies to stop investing in the
country until the practice is stopped -- and independent monitors
can verify that.
The U.S. State Department in February criticized Myanmar for
harshly repressing its citizens by denying them the most basic
social and political freedoms.
But Myanmar on Tuesday criticized the Human Right Watch report,
saying its "constant negative attitude, irresponsible actions and
unrealistic expectations are in fact hampering and depriving the
people of Myanmar of their rights to development and prosperity."
Myanmar's military has presided over a steadily weakening
economy, as international investment has plunged and economic
sanctions appear to have hurt the government and people alike.