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(New York) - The Burmese government continues to recruit large numbers of children into its army, many by force, Human Rights Watch said today. In a report released today, following up on research by Human Rights Watch in 2002, Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) found that child recruitment rates remain essentially unchanged compared to four years ago.

An extensive investigation by Human Rights Watch in 2002 found that up to 20 percent of Burma’s soldiers were children. The new report by HREIB found that recruiters for the Burmese army frequently use coercion and deception to recruit children in order to fulfill recruitment quotas issued by the government.

In both 2003 and 2005, the secretary-general of the United Nations reported to the U.N. Security Council that the Burmese government was in violation of international laws prohibiting the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. In 2004, the Burmese government established a high-level Committee to Prevent the Recruitment of Child Soldiers, which adopted a plan of action on the issue in October of that year.

“Unfortunately the Burmese government’s high-level committee to end child soldier recruitment has had no real impact on the problem,” said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Until the government takes genuine steps to implement its laws, children will continue to be snatched off the streets and forced into military service.”

Based on interviews with approximately 50 former child soldiers, the HREIB report found that many of the children interviewed had been deployed to fight against armed ethnic minority groups. Burma’s national laws prohibit any recruitment of children under the age of 18 into the armed forces.

Human Rights Watch’s 2002 report found widespread forced recruitment of boys as young as 11. Army recruiters often apprehended boys at train and bus stations, markets and other public places, using threats, intimidation and violence to force them into Burma’s armed forces. Former child soldiers reported routine beatings during their military training and brutal punishments if they tried to escape.

Once trained, children as young as 12 were sent to fight against armed ethnic minority groups. Former child soldiers were also used to commit human rights abuses against civilians.

Human Rights Watch also found children in Burma’s armed ethnic minority groups, although child recruitment was generally decreasing as these forces had shrunk in size and resources.

An increase in the government’s military presence in certain ceasefire areas, as well as the failure to address the political concerns of ethnic communities in the deliberations of the National Convention, heightens the risk of future fighting between the government and ethnic minority groups, leaving children vulnerable to recruitment.

Human Rights Watch noted that since 2000, 108 governments worldwide have ratified new international standards that prohibit all forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 or their use in armed conflict.

“Burma’s continued recruitment of child soldiers separates children from their families, subjects them to abusive military training, and exposes them to horrific violence,” said Becker. “The vast majority of the world’s governments have rejected the use of children as soldiers. Burma should too.”

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