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Hundreds of children, some as young as 13, are being coerced into military training in Burma’s northeastern Shan state.
One 16-year-old said that around 260 youths in the border town of Tachilek, close to Mae Sai in Thailand, were enrolled in training in mid-June. Authorities reportedly told them that they would be trained in fire-fighting.
“For the first two days of the training, we were actually taught the basics on fire-fighting. But over the next days, they brought guns to the training and taught us how to assemble and dissemble them,” the boy told DVB.
Locals in Tachilek speculated that the government could be attempting to persuade dispirited youths in the town who failed high school exams last year to join the army.
The trainees were given an allowance of between 2000 and 3000 kyat (US$2 to US$3) allowance depending on which ward in Tachilek they came from. Sources told DVB some of the youths, after learning that the training was for military purposes, went into hiding.
Burma’s child soldier issue was raised at the UN last week by the secretary general’s special representative for children in armed conflict. Radhika Coomaraswamy urged the Burmese government to allow the UN access to armed rebel groups thought to use child soldiers.
But the Burmese junta is also thought to be one of the world’s leading recruiters of child soldiers. A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 claimed that there could be as many as 70,000 child soldiers within the Burmese army, despite it being illegal under domestic law.
Their use is symptomatic of the government’s aggressive expansion of its army, which is now thought to number around 500,000, or nearly one soldier for every 10 people in the country. Battalion commanders are ordered to fulfil quotas of troop numbers and are rewarded with food or money when this is achieved, hence the ongoing forced recruitment of children.