1st November, 2007
Children as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited into the Burmese military, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
The organisation says that faced with high desertion rates and a lack of willing volunteers, military recruiters are targeting children, threatening them with arrest and beating them if they do not comply. They then typically receive 18 weeks of training, after which they can be sent into combat situations within days.
The report, Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma, says that child soldiers, who number in the “thousands”, are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages or using civilians for forced labour. Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited or imprisoned.
While noting that child solders are also recruited by non-state armed groups within Burma, it says these are doing so in far smaller numbers.
Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch, says the “brutality of Burma’s military government goes beyond its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
“Military recruiters are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the Burmese armed forces,” he says.
A former child soldier, Aung Zaw, says in the report that he was “about 13” the first time he was involved in fighting.
“That time we walked into a Karenni ambush, and four of our soldiers died. I was afraid because I was very young so I tried to run back, but (the) captain shouted, ‘Don’t run back! If you run back I’ll shoot you myself!’”
- DAVID ADAMS