The Burmese military is still recruiting underage children despite its policy against doing so, claim victims and activists.
Aye Myint, a lawyer and workers' rights activist in Pegu, told The Irrawaddy that the recruitment of children into the army is worse than last year.
“I received fifteen complaints from Rangoon, Irrawaddy, Mandalay and Pegu divisions. Three others are now collecting documents. Most of the persons that complained to the International Labor Organization (ILO) will be able to return to their home sooner or later,” said Aye Myint.
In January, 15-year-old Aung Ko and 12-year-old Thein Min Htike went missing on the way from Mawlamyinegyunn Township in the Irrawaddy Region to Rangoon while going to visit relatives, according to a family member.
The boys' mother, San Aye, said that three months later her sons informed the family that they had been recruited into the army and were receiving basic military training at Training Battalion No. 9 in Thaton Township, Mon State.
“One of my children is so young that he is not novitiate yet. I don’t wish to let them be conscripted into the army. I don’t want to live without them. My husband is now acting crazy and every day I have to shed tears,” said San Aye. “The children rang us and said they are okay and don’t want to come back, but it seems like someone is beside them.”
Pho Phyu, a legal advocate, said that he received three cases of child recruitment recently from the Irrawaddy region.
“The recruitment is still ongoing. We have some difficulties in this case. Although we can contact the child, the army transfers the child to another place and then loses the child. So we contact ILO,” said Pho Phyu.
Burmese child soldiers have been arrested and imprisoned as punishment for deserting when they tried to run away from their army bases.
The Burmese regime formed a committee to investigate child soldier issues in 2004 and it has since denied using child soldiers in the army.
According to the ILO's data, there were 261 underage recruitment complaints and 80 young men discharged or released as a result of the complaints from the beginning of 2010 until now. Of the remaining complaints, approximately 110 are in process, which means that the military is investigating, and 80 are being assessed by the ILO.
Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that when the issue of child soldier recruitment was raised back in 2007, the subject was very sensitive, but since that time the military response has been quite positive and there has been considerable improvements over the last few years.
“Every complaint we submit is received and acted on relatively efficiently, and if it is found that a person is under 18 then he is most definitely discharged and the perpetrator prosecuted,” said Marshall.
“It is important that we do not simply respond to complaints, that we are able to become more proactive working together to ensure the correct administrative policies are in place to stop the practice, and we look forward to working with the government to achieve that ideal position,” he added.
Rangoon-based 7 Day News journal, quoting a UNICEF official, reported that the number of underage soldiers recruited is decreasing and 402 child soldiers have been sent home since 2004.
“Children themselves come to the army to join. All of the child soldiers have no document such as identity and birth certificate. And its hard to differentiate who are 17-years old or 18-years old because of the same body structure. Some children want to join the army because they envy the officers they have seen,” Ramesh Shrestha, a UNICEF Representative in Burma, told the 7Day News journal.