Child soldier sentenced for deserting

Sept 23, 2009 (DVB), The family of two underage children forcibly recruited into the Burmese army last year have filed a complaint to a UN body after both were punished for escaping their depot, with one now in prison.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) received the complaint on Monday from the family of Zaw Naing Win and Than Htun Oo, cousins from southern Burma's Bago division.

The complaint details the case of the two boys who were both 16-years-old when they were abducted at a train station in June 2008 and sent to a Rangoon army unit.

Burmese law states that children under the age of 18-years-old cannot serve in the army, while international law says that those younger than 18 can only join voluntarily.

Daw Nyo, the mother of Zaw Naing Win, said the two were taken to a soldier recruitment centre and forcibly enlisted into the Burmese navy's Central Naval Stores Depot.

After six months of training with the navy, the two were allowed 10 days breaks each, during which they returned home.

"My son said he couldn't bear the strict rules and pressure from the army and he didn't go back to them," Daw Nyo said.

After refusing to return Zaw Naing Win to battalion officials who arrived at the house, the family was asked to pay 200,000 kyat ($US2,000) by a local deputy police chief. Police arrested Zaw Naing Win after the family failed to pay.

While Zaw Naing Win was punished with 15 strokes of the cane, Than Htun Oo was given a six-month sentence in Rangoon's Hlawga prison.

The family filed the complaint with assistance from Bago human rights and legal advocacy group, Guiding Star.

The head of Guiding Star, Aye Myint, said the army has a responsibility for recruiting child soldiers.

"This is a form of domestic human trafficking, the [army] should release these children," he said.

The ILO's liaison office in Rangoon was unavailable for comments.

Recruitment of child soldiers in Burma is common, with reports regular surfacing of abduction of children into the army.

A UN team was last month sent to Burma to pressure the ruling junta and armed ethnic groups to end use of child soldiers.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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