Ongoing Underage Recruitment and Use by the Myanmar Military and Non-State Armed Groups: Briefing for the UN Secretary General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, March 2016
Summary of concerns
Myanmar’s November 2015 Parliamentary election resulted in a sweeping victory for the National League of Democracy (NLD), generating hopes that the new NLD-led government will bring about a demonstrable improvement in the country’s human rights situation. Child Soldiers International has documented the widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers in Myanmar for over a decade, and believes that the new government needs to make a renewed commitment to ensure that the Tatmadaw Kyi (Myanmar military) becomes a child-free army.
Almost four years since the UN and the Myanmar government signed a Joint Action Plan (JAP) to end the recruitment and use of children in June 2012, children continue to be present in the ranks of the Tatmadaw Kyi as well as non-state armed groups (NSAGs), although recent trends indicate that active recruitment of children by the Tatmadaw kyi appears to have significantly reduced. The Tatmadaw Kyi discharged 146 children in three separate releases in 2015, and a further 46 on 12 March 2016, bringing the total number of children discharged since the signing of the JAP to 745. Due to an absence of comprehensive monitoring, it is not currently possible to determine the number of children present in the ranks of the Border Guard Forces (BGF). However, the BGF discharged one child in 2015, indicating that other children may also remain in the ranks.
Nonetheless, children continue to be unlawfully recruited into the Tatmadaw Kyi; 210 cases of “suspected minors” were reported by the Country Task Force for Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) for age verification in 2015. The CTFMR received complaints on these cases through its public phone line, the forced labour complaint mechanism of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and community monitoring initiatives. Ongoing armed conflict in Kachin and Shan states, related insecurity and high levels of attrition have ensured that the Tatmadaw Kyi is under pressure to maintain its troop strength, thereby necessitating ongoing recruitment, including of children.
Child Soldiers International also received reports of increased recruitment by NSAGs, including of children, in the backdrop of escalating conflict between the Tatmadaw Kyi and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Progressive Party / Shan State Army North, and the Palaung State Liberation Front / Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); and between joint Myanmar military-Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army South forces and the TNLA since September 2015.
This ‘recruitment economy’ has contributed to the creation of a network of informal recruitment agents (civilian brokers), who receive payments for delivering new recruits to the Tatmadaw Kyi.
Over the course of 2015, the use of civilian brokers continued to be reported with no movement to clarify the legal avenues to hold civilian brokers accountable. It has also generated pressure on recruiting officers to ignore national legal restrictions of the minimum recruitment age, in a context where adults are unwilling to volunteer and where accountability mechanisms designed to deter underage recruitment have been lax. Despite welcome measures to spread greater awareness about the unlawfulness of underage recruitment, including through the operationalising of a more centralised system for recruitment, children continue to be among those forcibly recruited, and remain easier to trick and more susceptible to pressure to enlist than adults. Where children from economically deprived or troubled backgrounds have volunteered for enlistment, the absence of rigorous enforcement of safeguards has facilitated their recruitment.
Information gathered by Child Soldiers International shows that military officers and civilian brokers continue to use deliberate misrepresentation, intimidation, coercion and enticement to obtain new recruits, including children. Civilian brokers have frequently recruited boys under false pretences, often offering them a different job, such as a driver.
ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) came into force in Myanmar on 18 December 2014 following ratification by the Myanmar government in 2013. However, the necessary implementing legislative framework has yet to be put in place. In particular, the accountability framework with regard to the prosecution of civilian brokers remains vague.