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UN to tackle Burma’s child soldier problem

Aug 5, 2009 (DVB), A United Nations team will visit Burma to pressure the ruling junta and armed ethnic groups to end use of child soldiers, as concern remains about the prevalence of the practice in the country.

The announcement follows a report issued in June by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon which said there had been "grave violations" against children in Burma, with both the Burmese military and ethnic rebel militias guilty of recruitment.

The report accused the junta of failing to provide proof of measures it said it was taking to end use of child soldiers, and of blocking UN access to rebel groups.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said on Tuesday that there had been some positive developments and that the Burmese government had been demobilising some children.

"We still are not sure how comprehensive that is and the extent of it," she told Reuters. "And so I am dispatching a team [to Burma] at the end of this month."

Human rights groups have criticised the government for not doing enough to tackle the problem, which they say is being masked over.

"The current situation seems to be pretty much the same; recruitment of child soldiers is still continuing but more underground," said David Matheson from Human Rights Watch.

"Even though the [government] has taken some steps, it is woefully insufficient to the scale of the problem and is just not good enough."

He went on to explain that the difficulty with the UN is that they have to work through the ruling State Peace and Development Council, which in 2004 constructed a committee ostensibly to address the problem.

But, says, Mathieson, it is a "public relations exercise to assuage the concerns of the international community that they're actually doing anything."

"I think any investigative mission by the UN has to see through those efforts and realise that a couple of token announcements and returns of some children which have been demobilised are way below the scale of the problem which we think there is," he said.

Recrutiment of children under 15 into the army has been recognised as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

Burmese law states that no child under the age of 18 shall be recruited into the army.

However, in a Human Rights Watch report, 'Sold to be Soldiers', it is reported that commanders rarely check documentation.

Furthermore, army generals place ambitious recruitment targets on commanders who are faced with the dilemma of either losing their job or recruiting children.

The punishment for recruiting children is small in the face of being demoted to a lower rank.

In July, one of Burma's main rebel groups, the Shan State Army (SSA), signed a memorandum of understanding with Abolish Slavery and International Operations Centre for Children (IOCC), vowing to prevent the use of child soldiers in return for outside aid to increase their international credibility.

The United Wa State army, Burma's largest rebel force, is reported to have the most child soldiers, second to the Burmese national army.

The Kachin Independence army is the only armed group to recruit girls, while the SSA and the Karen National Liberation Army have policies against recruiting children under 18, but do not turn away children who actively seek to join.

Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a landmark resolution 1882 on Children and Conflict.

The council called upon the Secretary General to expand his "list of shame" beyond recruitment and use of children.

The list will now include countries that are responsible for the killing and maiming of children as well as those who perpetrate grave sexual violence against children in wartime.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee


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