Young blood

Last month Burma’s armed forces discharged 68 underage soldiers from its ranks.

The latest release brings to total some 166 children freed from the military since the government signed a joint action plan with the UN in 2012.

Many have since become adults and they face many difficulties integrating back into society once they return home.

Aye Min was recruited into the army when he was 16. His uncle had advised him it would be a good career choice and assured him he could finish his exams once he enlisted and became a mechanic for the army.

“Most of the new recruits were underage, mentally challenged or even physically disabled – you see all sorts in the army,” said Aye Min.

After serving in the military for a year he managed to run away and now volunteers at a charity school teaching English.

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Aye Min said the army claim they will support those who are wounded in battle or by land mines, but in reality this is not the case.

“Most just end up in hospital where they live on hand-outs by private donors and sympathisers but the army doesn’t do much for them,” he said.

U Ba still waits for his son, Set Thi Aung, to return from the military. He stood on a landmine while in the army at aged 16 and lost his foot. U Ba has had to rely on the Red Cross to help his son as the government and military haven’t given him assistance.

“His situation only got better after we reached out to the Red Cross. I wish the government would create some kind of job opportunity for him or that the ILO would help rehabilitate him,” said U Ba.

Thet Wei, from the Facilitators Network, an NGO close to ILO Myanmar, said they want to government to take responsibility.

“Our recommendation is to rehabilitate the former child soldiers who left the army and provide them assistance in dealing with their mental and physical trauma,” he said.

No one knows exactly how many minors are still in the military and the numerous ethnic armies across Burma.

But what is clear is they do not get the help they need from the government or the army to overcome the physical and mental trauma they suffer, nor is there a rehabilitation programme to help them get back into employment.

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