Burmese Child Soldier Imprisoned for Leaving Military

By Salai Thant Zin 22 January 2014

A former child soldier who is under the coordinated protection of the International Labor Organization and Burmese authorities has been sentenced to one year in prison for deserting his unit, a local rights group says.

Ye Myat Oo, who served the military in Bassein Township, Irrawaddy Division, was arrested by a joint force of the army and the police and then sentenced by a military tribunal, according to the Bassein-based Human Rights Watch and Defense Network (HRWDN).

Before the sentencing, he had received a protection letter from the ILO, the HRWDN says.

“A copy of the ILO letter was sent to the army bases, police stations and administrative offices, but he was still apprehended and jailed,” said Myint Naing, a leader of the rights group.

Ye Myat Oo was arrested in late December and sentenced on Jan. 7. He is currently being held in Bassein prison.

“Both of his parents are dead. He only has one brother, and they live in his uncle’s house. They were not in good shape for their survival—that’s why he joined the army. Now, his brother has to visit him in jail,” a neighbor of the former child soldier told The Irrawaddy.

Ye Myat Oo lived in Bassein and reportedly joined the army in 2009, when he was 17 years old.

“A complaint was filed that Ye Myat Oo was recruited to the army before he reached the official age limit for service,” the ILO wrote in the protection letter, dated August 27, 2013, and signed by Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon. “The Burmese Government and ILO are in the investigation process for his case.”

The ILO letter said that legal charges would be filed if anyone harassed, threatened, arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned Ye Myat Oo or his family members during the investigation period.

In 2012 Burma’s government signed an action plan with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the country. The military has announced through state-owned and military-owned news media that it will discharge any soldiers which were found to have been serving while underage.

“The army, in fact, should have released Ye Myat Oo from service since the government and the ILO have agreed not to allow any minors to serve in the armed forces,” said Htun Shwe, a member of HRWDN.

Since its formation four years ago, the Bassein-based rights group has helped free over
30 child soldiers from army units. With help from HRWDN, the ILO office in Rangoon has given protection letters to eight former child soldiers.

On Saturday the army held a ceremony in Rangoon to hand over 96 child soldiers to their parents. It was the fifth ceremony of its kind since a reformist government took power in 2011 after decades of military rule.

The army has freed a total of 272 underage soldiers since 2012, according to a statement from the office of the army’s chief of staff.

According to the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), a network covering human rights-related issues in 157 townships across Burma, the army mainly recruits child soldiers in the divisions of Rangoon, Irrawaddy, Mandalay, Pegu and Magwe.