Nearly 18 months back, the Myanmar [Burmese] government made a commitment to the international community and its own people. Through a Joint Action Plan signed with the UN last June, it pledged to end the recruitment and use of children into its armed forces, the Tatmadaw Kyi, and the Border Guard Forces (BGFs). It also promised to take steps to ensure that children would be protected from recruitment in the future.
Some tangible measures have been taken; however children continue to be recruited into the Myanmar military and non-state armed groups. On 30 November 2013, the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, established under a 2005 Security Council resolution and consisting of all its members, begins a mission to Myanmar. It will meet with representatives from the Myanmar government and other actors to offer advice and support towards ending child recruitment and other grave violations against children in Myanmar.
The visit by the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict signals the continued engagement by the international community at the very highest level on this issue and will contribute to ensuring that the issue of children affected by situations of armed conflict in Myanmar remains prominent on the national agenda.
More importantly it offers an opportunity for a renewed commitment to end and prevent child soldiers in Myanmar. For instance, support to ensure that all children are registered at birth and all children possess an identity document which lays out clearly their ages, is a tangible way of providing protection to children against unlawful recruitment.
Similarly, support to the Myanmar military to ensure that it professionalises recruitment in its armed forces, implements effective age verification measures which are monitored and holds violations accountable, is yet another way to effect positive change.
Research conducted by Child Soldiers International shows that the commitment by the Myanmar government to end underage recruitment and use has led to some changes on the ground. Access by the UN Country Task Force to military sites has improved; release of some children from the army, though a small number, has taken place and some measures are being taken to improve recruitment practices.
However, there is no process yet to verify and release children from the BGFs, which are under the remit of the Joint Action Plan; children who escape from the Tatmadaw Kyi continue to be detained and treated as adult deserters; and accountability measures have so far failed to deter ongoing underage recruitment despite the fact that it is against the law.
Of particular concern to Child Soldiers International, the reasons which drove underage recruitment in the past have not been addressed: the Myanmar military continues to face pressures to increase troop numbers and a system of an incentive-based quota drives demand for fresh recruitment. This puts children at particular risk. The practice of falsification of age documents, including National Registration Cards and family lists, continues unchecked and no measures have been taken to establish accountability for this practice.
Armed opposition groups active in various regions of Myanmar have also been known to recruit children and use them in hostilities and they have been listed for several years in the UN Secretary-General’s annual reports because of these practices. The current efforts to resolve the armed conflicts in Myanmar constitute an important opportunity to offer children protection and remedy.
Child soldiers’ issues should be fully incorporated throughout the peace process and in the mechanisms aimed at monitoring their implementation, including by establishing a mechanism to verify and release child soldiers and ensuring that the recruitment and use of children is considered a violation of ceasefire agreements. By agreeing to incorporate these measures, the Myanmar government will take another essential step towards protecting children.
Charu Lata Hogg is the Asia Program Manager for Child Soldiers International
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The views expressed in this articles are the author’s and do not reflect DVB editorial policy.