Fifty-one children and young people were discharged from the Burmese Armed Forces, commonly known as the Tatmadaw, on Thursday, bringing the total number of underage recruits to be released this year to 93.
This latest batch of discharges has been commended by the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) as progress in the quest to completely end the involvement of children in armed conflict.
Child Soldiers International (CSI) said it also approves of the “substantive” release of children, however, Policy and Advocacy Director Charu Lata Hogg added that the youngsters should never have been enlisted in the first place.
“It is indeed a positive step which needs to be welcomed, but it also an indication that children continue to remain in the ranks of the Myanmar [Burmese] military,” Hogg told DVB on Thursday.
Earlier this year, a group of 40 children and young people were also officially discharged from the Tatmadaw, joining approximately 600 other minors who have been released by the military since the signing of a Joint Action Plan with the UN in June 2012.
Pressure from the international community has played a strong role in the release of child soldiers in Burma’s armed forces, however, international efforts can only go so far, said Hogg.
“The fact that the Myanmar military is listed as a party that recruits and uses children [soldiers] in the UN secretary-general’s report has created a framework in which an action plan has been signed, certain steps have been taken, awareness campaigns have been conducted, and indeed the release of children [from the military] has happened.
“But I think we should also remember that in the end, international pressure only plays a limited role. The pressure to change comes from within, and the fact that recruitment of children is ongoing is a sign that more needs to be done,” Hogg said.
The recruitment of child soldiers has been one of the most enduring human rights issues Burma has faced, one that is not solely confined to the Tatmadaw. Seven other non-state armed groups are listed by the UN secretary-general as “persistent perpetrators” in the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Burma. The Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army-South, and United Wa State Army are listed by the UN as guilty of the illegal practice.
Low rates of birth registration, an inaccurate and decentralised military record system, and lack of government transparency mean watchdogs find it difficult to accurately gauge numbers of those affected, and make it easier for those involved to feign ignorance of their new recruits’ ages, according to a CSI report published in January 2015.
For this reason, the discharge of underage soldiers has been a slow process. Even once released, CSI’s January report calls on both government and non-government organisations to provide economic and psychological aid to help the youngsters return to normal life.
Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar and Co-Chair of the CTFMR, said more is needed to be done in helping the children recover following their release from the army.
“Reintegration of children formerly associated with the Tatmadaw requires long-term efforts and continued funding.” Bainvel said in the 4 June press release from the UN Children’s Fund.
CSI agrees, saying that there is a “gap” in Burma between what is needed, and what is provided.
“For those children who have had exposure to the Myanmar military, and indeed were child soldiers, there is a severe need to provide not only economic support and assistance, but also means to assist psychological recovery,” said Hogg.
Previously, Hogg has called for the issue of child soldiers to be addressed in a nationwide ceasefire agreement. For further updates on the ongoing peace process between the Burmese government and ethnic militias, click here.