Child soldier numbers 'increasing' in Burma

Dec 9, 2009 (DVB), Recruitment of child soldiers by the Burmese army is increasing after incentives were offered to troops to boost battalion numbers, a legal advocacy group has warned.

Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is reportedly offering cash in return for recruitment drives by troops.

The military-ruled country already has one of the highest troop-civilian ratios in the world, but under domestic law cannot use children under the age of 18 in army.

Aye Myint, leader of the Guiding Star legal advocacy group in Burma's central Bago division, said that the group had assisted in 115 child soldiers cases since May this year. Most cases had originated in Mandalay, Bago and Irrawaddy divisions, and only around 10 children had been returned home.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), which also deals with child soldiers in Burma, said last month that it had received only 102 complaints since February 2007.

Aye Myint added that the situation was "becoming like a child trafficking business". He said the army provides 50000 kyat ($US50) and a bag of rice to anyone who brings a new recruit to the army.

Burmese government officials on Monday held a workshop with international aid groups, including UNICEF and Save the Children, on the prevention of child solider recruitment.

UNICEF resident representative, Ramesh Shrestha, told DVB that the government had been "implementing its own policy of screening to make sure that children are not recruited".

"One of the points that we are trying to emphasise is that this should be implemented in all [army] training schools," he said.

"Other preventative measures include advocacy with the communities to inform them that government policy is to recruit between 18 to 24-years-old," he added. "Parents must be aware that under-18s should not be recruited even if people want to join the army."

Maung Maung Lay, from the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Network said that the group has received 41 child soldier complaints since April this year.

"Around 10 are back at home now," he said. "Some were retrieved while they were still in the recruitment centres and some were in prison work camps or in their army posts."

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

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