Child soldier unable to leave Burmese army

Nov 20, 2007 (DVB), Burmese military officials have refused to let a 14 year old boy from South Dagon township leave the army, despite his parents providing proof that he is underage.

According to a local representative of the family, Maung Kyaw Min Thu went missing on 14 September after spending five days visiting his uncle's house in Insein.

His parents, U Thaung Aye and Daw Aye Naing, filed a missing person report with their local authorities and searched for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

On 18 September, a man came to see Thaung Aye and Aye Naing and told them that he had seen their son while visiting someone in the army, and the boy had told him to tell his parents to come and get him from the barracks.

Thaung Aye went to the army barracks on 20 September but was told by guards that he could not enter unless he came with a representative.

When Thaung Aye and Aye Naing returned to the barracks on 9 November, following the public protests in the country, they were told that Maung Kyaw Min Thu had already been sent to a training camp in Bassein, Irrawaddy.

The following day, his parents went to military unit 3 of basic military training camp 6 in Bassein, where they had learned their son was training, hoping to take him home.

The family's representative said that military officials said that Maung Kyaw Min Thu had signed up to the army by choice.

"We were met by officials there who showed us all the documents on him enlisting himself into the military of his own accord. They let us meet with the kid and told us to ask him ourselves if he wanted to go home or not. He looked all shaky and nervous when he said he was happy there and that he wished to stay in the military," said the representative.

"But when we were having lunch with him later, he told his parents that he wanted to go home. He also mentioned that he would tell us everything on his situation there if he would be allowed to leave the camp right away; if not, he would not say anything because he was scared he would be beaten."

Maung Kyaw Min Thu's parents showed the army officers his birth certificate and other documentation to prove he was below the legal age to join the army, but the officers said that the documents could have been forged, and they threatened to prosecute the boy for making false claims about his age when he was recruited.

The military officers made Thaung Aye and Aye Naing sign a letter confirming that their son was over 18 and had joined the army of his own free will.

The family's representative said that they signed the letter as they were afraid to disobey the army officers.

Maung Kyaw Min Thu's case has now been filed with the International Labour Organisation and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A report released on 31 October by international rights group Human Rights documented the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers by the military regime in Burma.

Due to the constant pressure on military recruiters to find new recruits, the report states that children as young as ten are being targeted and threatened with arrest or beaten if they refuse to join.

Records of enlistment are regularly falsified to show that children are over 18, and some are sent into combat situations soon after their 18-week training ends.

The report also criticised the Burmese government's denial of the problems with child recruitment, and described its efforts to prevent the practice as ineffective.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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