RANGOON — The Burma Army on Monday discharged and released 80 children and young people who had been recruited illegally when they were younger than 18 years, Unicef has announced.
It was the eighth time the military held a ceremony to release child soldiers since June 2012, when Burma signed an action plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers—an issue that was a widespread problem during decades of past military rule and that continues to some extent to this day.
“To date, a total of 553 child soldiers have been released from the armed forces, with 376 of the child soldiers released in 2014,” Unicef said in a press release.
Among the initiatives launched by Unicef in cooperation with the Defense Ministry is a 24-hour hotline to report the recruitment and the use of children in the military and Border Guard Forces. The government has also launched a mass information campaign in 2013 to raise public awareness about the issue and large billboards can be seen in Rangoon and cities warning against underage recruitment.
The discharged boys and young men are offered support to reintegrate into society and resume their education, which was broken off at the time of recruitment, through programs by NGOs funded by international donors, Unicef said.
One of the boys released on Monday, Aung Thura, is 19 years old but was recruited when he was only 14; he was targeted by army recruiters after he had run away from home.
“Being a cadet soldier was much more difficult than being at home,” he said, according to the Unicef statement, adding that he wanted to resume his education. “It’s a bit embarrassing because I’m so much older now but I do want to attend school so that I can do other things,” he said.