A child soldier has been returned to his family after a media report drew attention to his story in May this year.
Aung Than Soe, 16, from the village of Taungpoteke in Arakan State’s Pauktaw Township, was tricked into joining the army in December last year when two soldiers and a man dressed in plain clothes promised the boy a job paying 100,000 kyat (US$84) per month.
He realised it was a ploy to recruit him as a child soldier when he was taken to an army combat training school in Mandalay Division’s Thabeikkyin Township.
The family didn’t hear from him until 10 March this year when he phoned them from the camp to tell them of his forced recruitment.
His parents repeatedly visited the camp to demand the release of their son, but army officials refused. After an unsuccessful attempt to secure his release by approaching the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the family decided to speak to the media.
“I’d been trying to bring my son home for a few months already — I paid many visits back and forth between Arakan and Thabeikkyin and I was running out of money,” Aung Than Soe’s father, Maung Sein Aung, told DVB in an interview.
Maung Sein Aung said he planned to stage a protest, but a respected monk named U Manela advised to speak to the media instead.
“The parents tried and approached the ILO but that wasn’t successful either, so as a last resort I decided to ask for help from a DVB reporter,” said U Manela.
Maung Sein Aung contacted DVB and his story was aired on 20 May.
“Three days after the report aired, we received a phone call from the army training camp saying we could go and collect our son,” said Maung Sein Aung.
Aung Than Soe at that time had been transferred to the 366th Light Infantry Battalion in Sagaing Division, in an apparent move to deter the parents who were frequently visiting the boot camp.
He was unaware of his pending release until the day his parents arrived.
“I am very happy, beyond words to see my parents again,” said Aung Than Soe, when he was released on 27 May.
He added, “I did notice about two days before I was to be released, I stopped receiving orders to continue my daily duties and I was under constant watch. I first thought they were worried about me running away but then I was told my father was coming to pick me up the next day.”
Burma’s president Htin Kyaw on 11 May formed a committee, led by the Minister of Defence, to protect underage children from being recruited for military service.
According to statistics by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between 2012 and 2015 the Burmese Army discharged around 700 child soldiers from the military, but many more are believed to remain in service.