January 1997, Vol. 9, No. 1 (C)


Burma acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991. Since then, however, there has been little progress toward the implementation of the convention, and the underlying problems which impede implementation have not changed. These include a total lack of the rule of law and accountability of the government, as well as draconian restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which prevent local reporting and monitoring of the human rights situation of children. Events of October and December 1996 in Burma, which saw hundreds of high school and university students take to the streets to demand the protection of their rights, especially the right to form student unions, highlight the urgent need for reform. Over three hundred students and youths were arrested during the December demonstrations, at least fifty of whom remain unaccounted for.

This report examines the context within which children and their parents must struggle to exercise their rights and looks in detail at the legal provisions which deny them even the most basic rights and freedoms. It also reports on the current situation of children in Burma and the daily practices used by the military and other government agents which violate international law. These include abuses of international humanitarian law in ethnic minority areas, including the use of children as porters for the army and the forcible relocation of tens of thousands of civilians; the recruitment of children under the age of sixteen into the armed forces, often forcibly; arbitrary arrest and detention, often without charge or trial; the routine use of children as unpaid laborers on government construction projects; the arrest of high school students for writing or distributing leaflets, or for simply calling out slogans, under censorship laws which also severely limit the publication of children’s books and magazines; and the use of forced labor.

Frequently children used as porters die from beatings, a lack of medical care and exhaustion. Boys as young as thirteen are forcibly recruited into the army and see military action by the age of fourteen and fifteen. Even younger boys are “adopted” by the army and institutionalized as military recruits by the time they reach the age of fourteen. In some cases, where children are adopted under Buddhist customary law, they work in slave-like conditions as domestic servants or in other businesses. In some cases girls are trafficked into Thailand, through border checkpoints administered by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, the military government), where they become bonded laborers working in slave-like conditions. If these girls are returned to Burma by the Thai immigration authorities, they face arrest under Burma’s immigration laws for having left the country illegally. Given the lack of due process and corruption within the judiciary, they do not receive a fair trial. Until April 1992 children who were arrested for having exercised their right to freedom of association and expression were tried under summary justice in military tribunals. Today some of those children remain in adult jails, where conditions are often appalling. Those sentenced to prison with hard labor are sent to prison labor camps across the country where death rates are extremely high.

The report concludes that the government has shown little political will to implement the terms of the CRC, suggesting that its accession was not so much an indication of its desire to protect the rights of children as an empty gesture designed to improve its image abroad. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch welcomes the efforts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to engage the government in constructive dialogue regarding implementation and urges the international community to support the committee’s work.

This report is based on research that Human Rights Watch/Asia has conducted since 1990. Some of the information comes from sources inside the country and from U.N. agencies and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but most is based on first-hand observations and interviews with Burmese refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh. To protect these people, we have not included names and other details that could identify the interviewees.



Human Rights Watch recommends that the State Law and Order Restoration Council:

Take steps to ensure independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. Laws which are incompatible with international norms should be repealed or revised, including the 1982 Citizenship Act; Unlawful Association Act (1908, amended 1957), Printers and Publishers Registration Law of 1962 and the 1989 law amending it; the 1985 Video Law; the Wireless and Telegraphy Act of 1985 and the 1996 amendment; the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act; SLORC Order 2/88; and the 1996 Law to Protect the Stable, Peaceful and Systematic Transfer of State Responsibility and the Successful Implementation of National Convention Tasks Free from Disruption and Opposition.

Ensure that the 1993 Child Law is revised to make it and all other laws compatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Permit and encourage the formation of independent nongovernmental organizations that wish to work with children and their parents. Such organizations should also be permitted to receive training from international NGOs, either in Burma or abroad.

Enable full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by permitting international agencies, including human rights organizations, access to children throughout Burma on a regular basis to monitor progress. In accordance with Article 42 of the convention, the SLORC must also “make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

Immediately take steps to ensure that all children who have been proven guilty of a punishable offense are detained in juvenile centers and to improve conditions in all places of detention where children are held. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other appropriate international bodies should be allowed regular access to these places.

Allow all children and youths sentenced by military tribunals before 1992 who remain in jail to appeal their sentences in juvenile courts. Those sentenced solely for their peaceful political protests or for exercising their right to freedom of expression should be immediately released. All children held in adult jails or prison labor camps should be transferred immediately to suitable juvenile accommodation.

Educate the armed forces and give strict instructions on the treatment of civilians, especially children, during military campaigns. In particular, the use of civilians, particularly of children, as forced porters for the military must cease immediately. Those members of the armed forces who violate the provisions of the Geneva Conventions must be prosecuted and punished.

Demobilize all children under the age of sixteen who have been recruited into the army. No children under the age of sixteen should be permitted to join the military, even where they are non-combatants or where recruitment is disguised as education. The practice of forced recruitment, particularly of children under the age of sixteen, which is a violation of Burma’s domestic laws, must cease immediately.

Take steps to ensure Burma’s adoption laws are brought into line with international standards as established in the convention, so that children can be protected from abuse and exploitation by their guardians.

Immediately cease the practice of forcing children and their parents to work for no pay.

Immediately take steps to prevent the trafficking of girls and women into prostitution in Thailand and elsewhere. The SLORC should negotiate with Thailand to establish a system for monitoring the trafficking in girls, which mainly takes place at official cross-border checkpoints, and investigate and prosecute the traffickers to the fullest extent of the law.

Burmese girls who return or are returned after having been forced or otherwise lured into prostitution abroad should not be detained on their return under immigration or other laws. The government should take steps to ensure that they are fully rehabilitated and reintegrated when they return and conduct educational programs to discourage parents and children from being involved with trafficking agents.




  The Principle of Non-Discrimination
  Discrimination on the Basis of Citizenship and Between Classes of Citizens
  Discrimination Against Ethnic Minorities
  Discrimination Against Religious Minorities
  Freedom from Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  Freedom of Expression
  Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly
  Unlawful and Arbitrary Interference with a Child's Home
  Children in Detention
  Children in Emergency Situations
  Children in Conflict with the Law
  Children in Situations of Exploitation

Human Rights Watch      January 1997      Vol. 9, No. 1 (C)

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