Forced recruitment of child soldiers and sexual assault against minors is commonplace in Burma and must be tackled by the government, a domestic rights group has said.
The Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), a nationwide network of rights monitors, said that in June and July it received 10 complaints of rape of underage girls and 18 cases of child soldier recruitment by the Burmese army.
“Society is not doing much to protect children from sexual abuses and courts are dropping these cases without following legal procedures,” said Maung Maung Lay, who called for tougher laws to protect children.
He claimed some of the cases over rape he had seen appeared to be planned. “Often the girls are left with unwanted pregnancies and they are isolated from their families and kept under detention.
“They are also given abortions by illegal practitioners. And so often, these crimes are settled with punishments as light as a year prison term.”
The group released a statement this week calling on the government, UN and civil society organisations in Burma to step up their enforcement efforts, and claimed that despite the presence of groups such as UNICEF and Save the Children in Burma, abuses continue.
“They are international and both financially and figuratively strong,” said Maung Maung Lay. “However, there is little effort being put into raising public awareness on how victims can contact them or to seek help from them.”
A number of groups, including the two mentioned above and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), go to considerable effort publishing leaflets aimed at engendering knowledge among Burmese of their rights, and what measures to take if they feel these are being exploited.
Pressure from the Burmese government, which is notoriously suspicious of foreign-financed groups working in Burma, means however that these methods often fail to reach their intended target.
“We’ve never seen those leaflets being distributed to the public,” Maung Maung Lay said. “They actually do provide legal help for the children but it is hard for them to take preventative measures when the government doesn’t like them doing those things.”
Burma is considered among the world’s leading recruiters of child soldiers, despite groups like the ILO having a mandate in the country to monitor and investigate the problem.