A teenager, who was forcibly recruited by the military four years ago, is seeking protection from the International Labour Organisation’s liaison office in Rangoon after deserting the army.
Ye Min Oo, 19, was convinced to leave his hometown Chanmyatharzi in Mandalay division by a man who promised him a construction job in Kyaikhto township in Mon state that would pay twice the amount he was currently making.
In Kyaikhto, Ye Min Oo discovered that the man who had promised him a construction job was in fact an army recruiter. Ye Min Oo was threatened and forced to join Light Infantry Battalion 570 in Shan state’s Monghpyat township, where he was posted for almost four years.
“After arriving at the [battalion’s base], I was not allowed to contact my family and later I [unwillingly] agreed to join them. I was only 16 then,” said Ye Min Oo.
Earlier this year, Ye Min Oo got in touch with his family for the first time since leaving home and soon after returned to Mandalay to visit. Once home, Ye Min Oo decided he would not return to the battalion.
“I was living in grief not knowing whether my own son was dead or alive,” said his mother Ni Ni San.
Last Sunday, the family went to the ILO’s liaison office in Rangoon seeking assistance to prevent Ye Min Oo from getting arrested by the army for desertion.
The family is asking the ILO to issue their son a document that would prevent him from receiving a court-martial by the army.
According to Burmese Law, soldiers who commit criminal offences can be court martialed but are not able to stand trial in a civil court.
Despite being illegal under Burmese and international law, the use of child soldiers in the Burmese army is common. Only children over the age of 15 are legally able to volunteer for the army, while only adults over 18 can be forcibly recruited.
The story is common in Burma, where the ruling generals have been aggressively expanding the Burmese army, which is now thought to number nearly 500,000 troops, one of the world’s largest standing armies relative to population. A recent law that makes military service compulsory for men and women over the age of 18 is likely to increase this further.
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. A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 said that as many as 70,000 children could be in active duty, although more recent estimates are hard to obtain.