[This blog post is part of the “Fight the Lies: Expose the Truth” Campaign]
Burma has recruited and used children as soldiers consistently for more than 20 years, and has the largest number of child soldiers in the world. Unfortunately, the number continues to grow and as a children’s rights advocate has said, Burma is “literally buying and selling children” in order to fill the ranks.
Burma has been a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child since 1991, implying that they will abide by its rules and regulations that do not allow for the recruitment of child soldiers. The SPDC instated policies making it illegal to recruit children under 18 years old in Burma and even created the Committee for Prevention of Military Recruitment of Underage Children. Burma’s “new” government hasn’t changed any of these policies. There is clear evidence from rights groups in Burma as well as from firsthand accounts from child soldiers who have served in the Burmese army that prove that there continue to be children (even as young as 11 years old) forced into recruitment. In order to conceal the truth and to make it seem as though they follow the legal minimum age for recruitment, Burmese military’s recruiting officers routinely falsify enlistment documents to register children as being 18.
Because many of the military personnel are underpaid, they seek to supplement their incomes by recruiting underage children. They can be (forcibly) recruited simply while going to school or the market, while waiting for the bus or for a train, or even while hanging out with friends. Former child soldiers themselves have said that more than 50% of their military training camps consisted of children under 15 years old. They have attested that as child soldiers, they are forced to fight front-line during battles and participate in kidnapping and the burning of villages. Moreover, they are beaten and put into army jail for two or three months if caught talking about their former lives.
The Burmese government has repeatedly denied all of these accusations and continues to do so. The Minister of Defense, Lt-Gen Hla Min, insists that the armed forces are made up of adult volunteers, and that suggestions by the foreign media that the army recruits child soldiers is just a made-up exaggeration. Hla Min even contradicted himself in his statements, saying at first that minors have never been used as servicemen, but one sentence later saying that actions are being taken against officials guilty of using minors, and that the children are being returned to their families. Can it be more obvious that what they say is different than what they are actually doing?
Here is a short animation done by Human Rights Education Institute of Burma to help educate Burmese about the issue of child soldiers.