June 8, 2009 (DVB), A United Nations group has called for a revision of a clause in the Burmese constitution that apparently justifies the use of forced labour, and has said that cases of forced labour in Burma continue unabated.
In the past two years the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has received 152 complaints of forced labour in Burma.
At a meeting in Geneva over the weekend, the ILO voiced concern over a clause in the new Burmese constitution, ratified last May, that prohibits forced labour "except hard labor as a punishment for crime duly convicted and duties assigned by the Union in accord with the law in the interest of the public".
Burma's representative at the Geneva meeting said that the government "cannot accept criticism on our constitution process," when ILO asked to bring the article into conformity with labour rules.
According to the chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions (Burma), Maung Maung, those present at the meeting voiced their frustration at the slow pace of Burma's political transformation and continued instances of forced labour.
A report released by the ILO last week warned that the number of complaints doesn't reflect the extent of forced labour practices in Burma.
Victims can face difficulties in filing complaints: the ILO is situated in Rangoon with only limited resources, and forced labour victims don't always have reliable communication systems or travelling possibilities.
Filing a complaint itself can also be dangerous: in 15 out of the 152 complaints received, the ILO has received information alleging harassment or reprisals by government authorities.
"The major difficulty we are facing is that there is no convenience in reporting the abuses," said Maung Maung.
"We suggest the ILO open more offices in Mandalay and also in Arakan and Karen states."
Of the 152 complaints of forced labour received by the ILO, a third involved the recruitment of child soldiers.
The government response has generally been that the child 'volunteered' for army, whilst the ILO stand is that accepting volunteers under the age of 18 is against the law.
Reporting by Yee May Aung and Rosalie Smith