Nov 1, 2007 (DVB), International rights group Human Rights Watch has said that a military staffing crisis is leading the Burmese government to forcibly recruit children, in a report released yesterday.
The report, entitled "Sold to be soldiers: The recruitment and use of child soldiers in Burma", says that children as young as 10 are being targeted by Burmese military recruiters and threatened with arrest or beaten if they refuse to join.
Military recruiters are under constant pressure to find new recruits due to continued army expansion, high rates of desertion and a lack of volunteers, and this often leads them to force or coerce children into joining the ranks.
Military and civilian recruiters receive money and incentives for each recruit, and enlistment records are regularly falsified to show that the child is over 18.
"Child soldiers typically receive 18 weeks of military training. Some are sent into combat situations within days of their deployment to battalions," said a HRW statement.
"Child soldiers are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labor. Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited or imprisoned."
Non-state armed groups also recruit child soldiers, and some impose quotas on villages or household requiring them to supply a certain number of recruits, but the numbers are far smaller and some groups have taken steps to tackle child recruitment.
The Burmese government's efforts to prevent children being recruited into the military are criticised in the report.
A committee established to prevent the practice has been ineffective and has done little except dismiss outside reports of the prevalence of child soldiers.
Adjutant general Thein Sein emphasised the importance of countering claims of child recruitment in an address to the Committee for the Prevention of Military Recruitment of Underage Children in 2005.
"It is necessary for us to always refute the accusations [about the forcible recruitment of child soldiers] systematically , [and] always project before the international community the correct efforts being made by the committee and refute baseless accusations," he said.
Jo Becker, children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, denounced the lack of government will to end child recruitment.
"The government's senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and fail to punish perpetrators. In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will," said Becker.
Following the brutal military crackdown on monks and civilian protestors, HRW is concerned that children will be increasingly vulnerable to forced recruitment.
"After deploying its soldiers against Buddhist monks and other peaceful demonstrators, the government may find it even harder to find willing volunteers," Becker said.
HRW has urged the United Nations Security Council's working group on children and armed conflict, which will discuss violations against children in Burma in the coming weeks, to consider imposing military and financial embargoes on the regime.
"The Security Council should fulfill its pledge to hold violators to account for recruiting and using child soldiers," said Becker.
"Given Burma's abysmal record on child soldiers, sanctions against the Burmese military government are clearly warranted."
Reporting by DVB