Ninety-one children and persons under the age of 18 were released on Friday from Burma’s armed forces, according to a statement by the UN child rights group UNICEF.
In a 1 August press release, UNICEF’s Burma office said the discharge would allow them to rejoin their families, friends and communities, and that the move demonstrated “the commitment of the Myanmar [Burmese] Government and the Myanmar Armed Forces to end the recruitment and use of children.”
“The 91 children and young people arrived in Yangon [Rangoon] earlier this week where, for many of them, they met their families for the first time after several years of separation,” the UN statement said, adding that the young people were provided with new civil documentation, health checks, and one-to-one psycho-social debriefing sessions with trained social workers to identify their immediate and longer-term needs.
The UN said it welcomed the release of the 91 children, one of the largest of such discharges since June 2012, when Naypyidaw committed to ending the recruitment and use of children in its armed forces by signing an Action Plan with the UN.
“Today’s release of 91 children and young people is an important step in ending the recruitment and use of children in the Myanmar Armed Forces, a practice that takes children away from their families and communities with long lasting, devastating effects on the child,” said Shalini Bahuguna, UNICEF’s deputy representative to Burma, speaking on behalf of the UN’s Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR). “As of today, a total of 364 children and young people have been released since June 2012.”
In addition to Burma’s government forces, the UN said that seven non-state armed groups have consistently been guilty of recruiting and using children: 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.
However, according to Charu Lata Hogg, the Asia Program Manager for Child Soldiers International, the Burmese military is under pressure to increase troop numbers and that continues to drive under-aged recruitment.
“The primary issue that remains outstanding is that children continue to be unlawfully recruited into the ranks of the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces],” she told DVB by phone on Friday. “The ILO [International Labour Organization] has received about 340 cases of recruitment between 2013 and 2014, and of these, 48 cases were actually recruited in 2013 and 2014. So we have an ongoing problem. This needs to stop.
“[The Burmese army] is under pressure to increase troop numbers and that continues to drive forced under-aged recruitment,” she said. “We are calling for an increased prevention drive by the Myanmar military – a reform and strengthening of recruitment processes, age verification processes, accountability and monitoring.”
She added that Child Soldiers International sees the pattern of recruitment as “largely unchanged”.
“Increasingly, we’re finding that recruitment is taking place around temples. That is a new phenomenon. Recruitment in 2013 and 2014 was largely coerced. There were some cases where children volunteered to join the military but in a large number of cases it was under pressure and coercion. Children were duped, they were tricked into joining. They were offered a job – say, as a bus driver — they were offered training, they were offered education, and before they knew it they were in a recruitment centre or in a battalion.”