RANGOON — The Burma Army has discharged an additional 51 young soldiers who were recruited as minors, the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, announced on Thursday.
This second batch of discharges brought the total number of freed underage recruits to 93 since the start of this year.
Unicef, which co-chairs a UN country task force for eliminating child soldiers and ending underage recruitment, welcomed the discharge in a statement on Thursday.
“Unicef and its partners supports [sic] the Myanmar [Burma] government’s commitment to ensuring its children are protected and have access to their basic rights,” Bertrand Bainvel, the agency’s representative in Burma, said in a press release.
UN humanitarian coordinator in Burma and the other co-chair of the task force, Renata Lok-Dessallien, mirrored his remarks, commending the decision to discharge and not punish the children.
Some of the children had previously been accused of desertion, and the fact that they were officially released from duty demonstrated the military’s acknowledgement “that they should not have been in the army in the first place.”
The UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) on Grave Violations against Children was established in Burma in 2007. The government of Burma signed a joint action plan with the United Nations in 2012, and since that time 646 children have been released by the Burma Army.
All of those released were under 18 at the time of signing the joint action plan.
Activist Aung Myo Min, who has for years advocated for children’s rights in Burma, welcomed the discharge but urged the government and the CTFMR to establish a more expedient solution.
“There might still be many more children remaining in the army, and there shouldn’t be,” Aung Myo Min said, arguing that streamlining the identification system could help to speed up the process and release all underage recruits at once.
“If they had a specific system, they could discharge all of them at the same time,” he said.
The United Nations said that the Burma Army and seven other non-state armed groups have been listed as “persistent perpetrators” of underage recruitment and use.
Those seven were identified as: the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA); Kachin Independence Army (KIA); Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA); Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council; Karenni Army (KA); Shan State Army South (SSA-S); and United Wa State Army (UWSA).