Government armed forces
The Burmese army, the Tatmadaw, continued to recruit large numbers of child soldiers, despite government statements to the contrary.162 Human Rights Watch estimated that children may account for 35 to 45 percent of new recruits into the national army, and 70,000 or more of Myanmar’s estimated 350,000 soldiers.163 Children, some as young as eleven, were forcibly recruited, brutally treated during training, used in forced labour by the army and forced to participate in armed conflict. Children were also used to commit human rights abuses against civilians and other child recruits.164
In 2002 the ruling body, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) claimed that the army was comprised entirely of volunteers aged eighteen and older. In May 2002, the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the UN stated that: “the Government prohibits the enlisting of recruits under the lawful age [of 18 years]. The under age are not allowed to apply for recruitment. Action is taken on any infringement of the Regulation under the Defence Services Act.” 165
In January 2003 The Washington Post conducted an investigation along the Thai-Burma border and interviewed several former soldiers recruited as children.166 Reports emerged of children being kidnapped by soldiers while on their way home from school, at ports, bus terminals, and train stations.167 In June 2003, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) reported recruitment of children as young as eleven or twelve, based on eyewitness accounts by refugees in Northern Thailand.168
A 14-year-old boy interviewed in April 2003 recounted being abducted when aged 13 while on his way to school in August 2002 in Yangon (Rangoon). He said the soldiers forced him into a military vehicle and threatened to shoot him if he tried to escape. After being taken to a military camp, he said that “other trainees, if they were caught trying to run away, their hands and feet were beaten with a bamboo stick, and then put in shackles and beaten and poked again and again, and then they were taken to the lock-up”.169
Similar findings were reported by Human Rights Watch in 2002.170 They found that new recruits were typically sent to one of two large recruitment holding centres near Yangon and Mandalay. Reports by former soldiers sent to the centres over the past four years indicated that approximately 35 to 45 per cent of new recruits were under the age of eighteen and 15 to 20 per cent were under the age of fifteen. The youngest recruits were between eleven and thirteen. New recruits were generally not allowed to contact their families, and children reported harsh treatment during training, including frequent beatings and brutal punishments for attempted escapes. Duties performed reportedly included preparing meals to fighting in front line areas and committing human rights abuses, including rounding up villagers for forced labour, burning homes and villages and carrying out extra-judicial executions.171
Non-state armed groups
Human Rights Watch found that nearly all armed groups in Myanmar recruited and used child soldiers. According to some estimates the combined non-state armies contain between six and seven thousand soldiers under the age of eighteen.172 The United Wa State Army (UWSA), which agreed a ceasefire with the authorities in 1989, was estimated to have 2,000 child soldiers, often conscripted by force. The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) worked with the support of the Burma Army and SPDC authorities and regularly engaged in skirmishes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).173 It was unclear whether the DKBA had a policy on the minimum age for recruitment to the army. One former DKBA soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that 40 to 50 percent of new recruits to the DKBA were under eighteen.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), another ceasefire group, also forcibly recruited children, including girls, who were used for labouring on roads and farms. Although it claimed not to have any child soldiers, witnesses reported that some children served in support roles.174 The Mon National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the New Mon State Party, which agreed a ceasefire with the authorities in 1995, was also reported to use child soldiers.175 The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union in conflict with the authorities for more than 50 years, set eighteen as the minimum age of recruitment, but was known to accept children who actively sought to enlist, and allowed them to participate in combat. The KNLA was estimated to have up to 500 child soldiers. 176
Representatives of the Karenni Army (KnA), the armed wing of the Karenni National Progressive Party, told HRW in 2002 that it had had over 3,000 names on its enlistment rolls but due to a lack of resources there were only 1,200 armed and active soldiers. Other estimates placed KnA strength at approximately 1,000 soldiers, with possibly an additional 500 militiamen.177 While KnA policy specified the minimum recruitment age as eighteen, KnA officials openly admitted that the rules were often broken. In March 2002, a KnA general told HRW that an estimated 20 per cent of the soldiers in his army were under 18 years old, suggesting a total figure of about 250 child soldiers. Other sources provided similar estimates.178 All the KnA soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2002 testified that they had volunteered for service, with several under-16s saying they volunteered because their houses had been burned down.179
In April 2003 the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights adopted by consensus resolution 2003/12 which deplored continuing human rights violations in Myanmar, including the “systematic use of child soldiers”, and called on the government to take immediate action to end the use of forced labour, including by the armed forces.180
The International Labour Organization (ILO) opened a liaison office in Yangon in June 2002 and in September appointed a Permanent Liaison Officer. In May 2003 the ILO said that an agreement had been reached between the ILO and the SPDC to appoint an independent ILO facilitator with a mandate to receive complaints on forced labour. However, the ILO postponed signing the agreement following the deterioration of the human rights situation and the mass arrests of political activists at the end of May. Concern was widely expressed that the facilitator’s capacity to receive complaints would be seriously impaired in the prevailing climate of fear and intimidation.181
Demobilization and child protection programs
There were no disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs available for child soldiers in Myanmar or neighbouring countries. Children suspected of desertion were subjected to beatings, long prison terms, forced re-recruitment, or in some cases, summary execution.
There were no indications of a policy of, or systematic recruitment below the age of 18 into the Royal Nepal Army (RNA). However, the government reportedly targeted children suspected of affiliation with the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-Maoist).182 Many children, some as young as 13, were taken into custody by security forces in connection with the insurgency and some remained unaccounted for.183 Some children were reportedly used as by government forces as informers. Children were also victims of the armed conflict through exposure to war remnants and explosives, or by being caught in crossfire.184
Non-state armed groups
The CPN disengaged from peace talks with the government on 27 August and the conflict resumed. There were reports of CPN recruitment and use of children aged between 15 and 18, although the CPN leadership denied this.185 Many children were reportedly abducted by the CPN, including 518 children in January 2003. Most were released after a few days after having taken part in political indoctrination courses.186 Eighty children aged around 15 were reportedly abducted from Jan Jyoti school, Salyan district in Western Nepal in January. They said they had received training in “guerrilla warfare” before being released.187 Child recruits were reportedly used in some cases as fighters and human shields, as well as messengers and porters.188 Some underage girls reported sexual abuse while with the group.189
The CPN sponsored the All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary) (ANNISU-R), a student political organization, which clashed with armed forces on various occasions.190 In the ANNISU-R was accused of forcible recruitment at schools using threats to intimidate students, head teachers, and other relevant actors into boosting their ranks.191 In June a member of the ANNISU-R claimed that the organization numbered as many as 400,000.192
Demobilization and child protection programs
No official child DDR program existed, although some small projects had been established for former combatants.193 One regional NGO noted that “children’s advocates express concern that these efforts [at reintegrating children affected by the insurgency] by both the government and other organizations may be catering to less than half of the children actually affected by the conflict.”194 While some child soldiers reportedly returned home after the ceasefire declared on 29 January 2003, they were not officially demobilized. At the time, these children expressed concern they could be re-recruited if the conflict resumed and such fears re-emerged after the breakdown of negotiations in August.195
162 UNICEF, Adult Wars, Child Soldiers (New York, UNICEF, 2002).
163 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002.
164 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002; Democratic Voice of Burma News, 2 July 2003.
165 Letter to HRW from the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the UN, May 8, 2002.
166 Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma’s Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities,” Washington Post, February 10, 2003.
167 Democratic Voice of Burma News, 22 January 2003. See also, Wilkinson, Ray, “Growing pains,” Bangkok Post, 19 June 2003; Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, Vo. 2, No. 22, “Child Soldiers Flee to Freedom,” 28 May 2003.
168 International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Trade Union World Briefing, June 2003, p. 5.
169 Information received confidentially by credible Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers sources in August 2003.
170Information provided by HRW, July 2002.
171 Information provided by HRW, July 2002
172 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002.
173 Pathan, D, “New Rebel recruits train to face Burmese Army”, The Asian Age, 3 February 1999.
174 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002.
175 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002.
176 Human Rights Watch, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, October 2002.
177Information provided by HRW, July 2002.
178 Information provided by HRW, July 2002
179 Information provided by HRW, July 2002
180 Resolution 2003/12 on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 17 March-25 April 2003
181 Amnesty International 2003, Myanmar: Justice on trial (ASA 16/019/2003)
182 The State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal 2003, National Report by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center, 2003.
183 “Security agencies fail to reveal whereabouts of arrested children,” The Kathmandu Post, 15 April 2003.
184 Information received by credible CSC sources, September 2003.
185 “Maoist leader denies recruiting child soldiers,” Himalayan News Service, 11 May 2003; “Maoists deny charges of using child soldiers,” The Kathmandu Post, 20 April 2003.
186 Mills, Elizabeth, “Nepal – Maoists Kidnap More Students as Political Battles Continue in Nepal,” World Market Research Center Daily Analysis, 14 January 2003; “Rights-Nepal: As Violence Rises, Children Roped into Maoist War,” Inter Press Service, 17 January 2003; Child workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) update, June 2003, www.cwin.nepal.org
187 “Nepal insurgents abduct 80 students for indoctrination”, Kathmandu Post via Nepalnews.com website in English, 14 January 2003..
188 “UN envoy to Nepal comments on Maoist recruitment of children,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, 16 January 2003; “Nepal concerned over recruitment of child soldiers by Maoists,” The Press Trust of India Limited, 16 January 2003.
189 The State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal 2003, National Report by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center, 2003.
190 “ANNISU-R demands dismissal of all charges against its cadres,” The Kathmandu Post, 20 March 2003; “Student strike badly affects life in Kathmandu, 54 students arrested [Corrected 04/28/03],” Agence France-Presse, 28 April 2003. “Nepalese army rejects allegations of human rights violations,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, 27 December 2002.
191 “Nepal Maoists accused of forcing students to join ranks,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, 20 June 2003.
192 Nepal Maoists accused of forcing students to join ranks,” BBC Monitoring South Asia, 20 June 2003.
193 The State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal 2003, National Report by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center, 2003.
194 Citing The Kathmandu Post: “Nepal: Government Efforts for Child Victims of Insurgency may be Insufficient,” Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, 2 April 2003.
195 “Child soldiers wish for peace, do not want to return to jungle,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2 May 2003.