(New York) The Burmese government’s claim that it does not use child soldiers is contradicted by the evidence, Human Rights Watch said today. Burma has claimed a recent Human Rights Watch report is "just another example of attempts to tarnish the image of Myanmar and the Myanmar Tatmadaw (military) in the eyes of the international community."
"We're very disappointed that, despite ample evidence to the contrary, the government continues to deny the military's use of children as soldiers," said Jo Becker, Children's Rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "It is the widespread forced recruitment of children by Burma's army that tarnishes the image of the country, not efforts to bring these abuses to light."
On October 16, Human Rights Watch released a report based on numerous first-hand testimonies of children who had been forcibly recruited by Burma's military. The report found that boys as young as 11 are forced into the army, brutally treated, and forced to commit human rights abuses and fight against armed opposition groups. Although the vast majority of Burma's child soldiers are in government armed forces, armed opposition groups were found to include children as well.
The government claimed on Thursday that the military is purely voluntary and that national laws setting the enlistment age at 18 are "strictly enforced."
"Burma's denial of the use of child soldiers is not credible," said Becker. "We urge the government to take positive steps to confront the problem. These include demobilizing all children from its forces and putting effective systems in place to ensure that children are not recruited and that those responsible are held accountable."
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, is currently in Burma for his fourth visit to the country.
Human Rights Watch has urged him to raise the recruitment and use of children as soldiers with the government of Burma and to report on this issue to the United Nations General Assembly.