ILO to begin Burma child soldier campaign

Feb 12, 2010 (DVB)-The International Labour Organisation will begin circulating leaflets on forced labour and child solider recruitment across Burma, but not before it is passed through the regime’s notorious censor board.

Burma is thought to have one of the world’s highest counts of child soldiers, and the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the only body officially mandated to tackle the problem in the pariah state.

Steve Marshall, ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that a draft of the leaflet had been submitted to the government’s labour ministry for approval.

The campaign, he said, was raised during talks in Burma last month between ILO executive director Kari Tapiola and labour minister Aung Kyi.

The talks also resulted in an extension of the ‘supplementary understanding’ between the government and the ILO, which acts as an agreement that the Burmese junta will not avenge those who complain to the ILO about forced labour and child solider recruitment.

"There will need to be an extensive printing of these [leaflets] in various languages, with a wide distribution," said Marshall.

Many complaints of forced labour and child solider recruitment come from Burma’s border regions where the army has been fighting decades-long conflicts with various armed ethnic groups.

"The first print run will clearly be in Myanmar [Burmese] language, but it would be silly not to produce it in the major ethnic languages," he said, but added that the translation would take more time.

The ILO has struggled since the first supplementary understanding was signed in February 2007 to curb the recruitment of child soldiers and use of forced labour, which includes land disputes, by the Burmese government.

It has also expressed "serious concern" about the jailing of labour activists and forced labour complainants.

A landmark Human Rights Watch report in 2002 found that an estimated 70,000 child soldiers made up around 20 percent of the Burmese army. Another report last year by the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict claimed that children as young as nine were serving in the military.

Reporting by Nay Htoo

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