Additional 53 Child Soldiers Released by Burma Army

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 30 November 2015

RANGOON — The Burma Army discharged another 53 child soldiers on Monday, the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, has announced.

The children and young people released had been recruited and used for military purposes. In total, the army has discharged 146 people in 2015, a move welcomed by Unicef..

“Today’s release is the result of continued efforts of the Government of Myanmar and the Tatmadaw to put an end to the harmful practice of recruiting and using children,” UN resident coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien in a statement.

The co-chair the UN’s task force on monitoring and reporting violations against children, Lok-Dessallien added that she was “delighted to see these children and young people returning to their homes and families.”

According to Unicef, the task force, established in 2007, calls on the government “to accelerate essential remaining steps, particularly by adopting legal measures in the re-drafted Child Law that are necessary to prohibit and criminalize use and recruitment … reinforcing the age assessment procedures within the military recruitment process, and including the prevention of violations against children in the military curriculum.”

Since the Burmese government signed a joint action plan with the United Nations in 2012, the Burma Army has released a total of 699 children. In September, Burma added its signature to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding child soldiers.

Bertrand Bainvel, Unicef representative to Burma and also a co-chair of the task force, said that “the signature of the protocol is a crucial step towards a child-free army.”

He also added that “now it is urgent that Myanmar ratifies the Protocol. Along with the review and the adoption of the revised Child Law, this would be one of the most important legacies the outgoing parliament has the opportunity to leave to new generations in Myanmar.”

Win Htein, central executive member and a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), backed Bainvel’s call for urgent action before his party assumes power early next year after winning a landslide victory in the Nov. 8 general election.

“I wonder how many child soldiers still remain in the Burma Army,” he told The Irrawaddy. “They’ve released child soldiers, though they actually should not have taken these children to serve in the army in the first place.”

In addition to the Burma Army, seven of Burma’s ethnic armed groups have been accused of recruiting and using children in conflict. The United Nations recently initiated dialogue with several of these groups to discuss the possibility of stopping the practice.

Humanitarian organizations remain optimistic. In the UN’s statement, Lok-Dessallien said that “we are hopeful that institutional checks that have been put in place and continued efforts will ensure that recruitment of children will exist no more.”