Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Activists skeptical of release of child soldiers

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – State-run newspapers on Wednesday reported that eight minors who had joined the military of their own volition were returned to their parents, a rare case in military-ruled Burma, which is often criticized for forcibly recruiting children into the armed forces.

The junta’s mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday stated, “The Work Committee for Prevention Against Recruitment of Minors today handed over eight minors who joined the Tatmadaw [military] of their own accord to their parents.”

The incidence, however, was received with skepticism by rights activists, believing the move a “showpiece” and accusing the junta of secretly continuing to recruit children into the military.

Aye Myint, a lawyer from Pegu town advocating and fighting against the recruitment of child soldiers said the paper’s claims were contradictory to the prevailing situation, as he has received several parental complaints of children being recruited into the military.

He said just months ago family members of a child, who had reportedly gone missing in December, approached him explaining they had received a letter from their son saying he is now in a military camp in central Burma.

While unable to confirm the facts of the missing child, he said he is working on the case and will bring it to the attention of the liaison office of the International Labor Organisation in Rangoon, through which he has been able to rescue a number of boys from military camps in the past.

“The number of children being returned back to their parents would only be a small percentage of the total children in the military,” he emphasized.

Meanwhile, Aung Myo Min, Director of the exile-based Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), welcomed the junta’s action of returning the eight kids to their parents but voiced concern for those who remain in the camps.

“Earlier the junta blatantly denied having children in their barracks, but this is a significant confession. It is definitely a progressive development,” affirmed Aung Myo Min.

He said HREIB has documented the presence and recruitment of child soldiers into the Burmese Army and expresses his hope that the junta will release additional children from their barracks.

But Aung Myo Minn said he is skeptical of the junta’s claim of the children joining the army upon their own will, because the Army is notorious for abducting children from the streets, railway and bus stations and other public places.

“We still need to raise the question on whether the children had joined the Army of their own will, as there are many incidents in which the regime has forcibly recruited children,” he said.

Additionally, Aung Myo Min expressed concern for the children’s mental and moral health due to their experiences in the military.

Additional reporting by Niangboi

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