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ILO to be 'more proactive, not reactive' in Burma

Jan 7, 2010 (DVB), The International Labour Organisation is looking to change its approach to dealing with issues of child soldiers and forced labour in Burma, with a top-level ILO official to visit the country next week.

The Burmese army has been accused by rights groups of being one of the world's leading recruiters of child soldiers, deemed illegal under both international law and Burmese domestic law.

According to Steve Marshall, ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, the UN body continues to receive complaints of child soldier recruitment, despite holding a 'Supplementary Understanding' with the Burmese junta to stop use of underage soldiers.

Last year the ILO received 83 complaints of child soldier recruitment, Marshall said, while 46 children had been officially discharged by the army. The total number of complaints received by the organization since it began its complaints mechanism in February 2007 stands at more than 120.

The ILO deputy director general is due to visit Burma next week "with a view to signing a 12-month extension of the supplementary understanding," Marshall said, adding that he will meet with the government's Committee for the Prevention of Underage Recruitment.

He also said that the ILO is looking to work with the Burmese government "to get a joint action plan which would allow a more positive, proactive approach to the problem [of child soldiers and forced labour], rather than the current reactive approach".

A grassroots legal advocacy group, Guiding Star, said last month that use of child soldiers in Burma was increasing after incentives were offered to troops to boost battalion numbers. The military-ruled country already has one of the highest troop-civilian ratios in the world.

Another domestic group tackling child soldier recruitment in Burma, the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network (HRDP), told DVB yesterday that two 16-year-old males were abducted by an army sergeant last month in Irrawaddy division's Bogalay township and sent to a military centre in Rangoon.

The incident was reported to the ILO yesterday, Maung Maung Lay of the HRDP said, adding that the group assisted in a total of 46 child soldier cases in 2009, and managed to return home around 20 children.

"There is a greater chance of bringing a kid back home quickly while he's still in a recruitment centre but once the kid is posted in active duty in the army then it becomes more difficult," he said.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw


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