Thursday, June 18, 2009

Junta continues to recruit children into army: Rights defender

New Delhi (mizzima news) - Despite the Burmese junta’s claim of eliminating the use of children in the military, a human rights advocate said children in Burma are still recruited into the army and that he is currently advocating for the return of three children from the armed forces.

Aye Myint, a lawyer in Pegu town, who has helped in the return of several children from the army, said he is handling three cases of children being recruited in the army in recent weeks. He is now working for their return at the behest of their parents.

“I have just submitted a letter of complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the return of three children from the army,” Aye Myint told Mizzima on Wednesday.

But since publicising the details of the cases could come in the way of the ILO and his efforts to negotiate with the Burmese authorities in helping the children return, he refused to provide details of the cases of the three children.

In a summary of the cases, Aye Myint said, it includes a boy of age 16 from Myingyan town of Mandalay division. The boy was reportedly working at a restaurant in Pegu town and was persuaded by an Army officer from Brigade 77 to join the army and was later taken away by the officer.

“No matter how the child is recruited, whether by persuasion, coercion, or threat, if a child under the age of 18 is recruited into the army, it is a violation. The army has the responsibility to return the kid because the kid is supposed to be in the classroom not carrying out military duties,” Aye Myint said.

Aye Myint, who by profession is a lawyer, has started fighting against the use of children in the military since 2006. And since March 2006, he said, with the help of the ILO, he was able to help 25 children return from the army.

On June 3, the junta claimed that it is taking steps in preventing and eliminating the use of children in the army by sending back eight minors to their parents from the military.

But Aye Myint as well as other human rights activists said the return was just a sham while the army continues recruiting children into the army.

Burma is a signatory to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Child (CRC). While the convention prohibits children of age 15 and below from recruiting into the army, the Burmese military law specifies that children below 18 cannot be recruited into the army.

But against these laws, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2007 report states that children in Burma are still being used as soldiers not only the Burmese Army but also by non-state armed forces, referring to ethnic armed rebel groups.

The report, which was submitted to the UN Security Council, listed nine armed groups from Burma including the Burmese Army among the 54 armed groups around the world that continues to use children in their armies.

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