Thursday, December 6, 2007

Junta recruits children for its military

The Manila Times
Friday, December 07, 2007
NEW YORK: Children as young as 10 are being forcibly recruited into the Myanmar army, bought and sold by military recruiters desperate to swell their ranks, Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.

The junta, plagued by high desertion rates and a lack of volunteers, is enabling the practice with military recruiters and civilians getting cash and other incentives for each new recruit, the rights group said.

“The government’s senior generals tolerate the blatant recruitment of children and
fail to punish perpetrators,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch.
“In this environment, army recruiters traffic children at will.”

Recruiters, desperate to meet quotas set by their superiors, target children at train and bus stations, markets and other public places and threaten them if they refuse to join. Some children are beaten until they agree, said the report entitled “Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma.”

The rights group said thousands of children are among the army’s ranks and in some newly-formed battalions, children reportedly represent a large percentage of privates.

“They filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said 16, I was slapped and he said, ‘You are 18. Answer 18,’” Maung Zaw Oo told Human Rights Watch, recounting the second time he was forced into service.

Another former child soldier, Than Myint Oo, said: “The officers are corrupt and the battalions have to get recruits, so there’s a business.

“The battalions bribe the recruiting officers to get recruits for them. These are mostly underage recruits, but the recruiting officers fill out the forms for them and say they’re 18.”

One boy said he was forced into the army at age 11, despite being only 1.3 meters tall (four feet, three inches) and weighing less than 31 kilos (70 pounds).

The regime’s recent bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters led by Buddhist monks sparked international outrage, with the United States tightening sanctions on the ruling military junta.

And the sweep against monks and other protesters may make children more vulnerable to recruitment as the army could “find it even harder to find willing volunteers,” Human Rights Watch said.

Although the UN Security Council has threatened sanctions against those in the regime linked to the use of child soldiers, it has so far taken no action, it said.

The report calls for the Security Council to consider possible bans on the supply of arms and military assistance and travel restrictions on regime leaders.

“The Security Council should fulfill its pledge to hold violators to account for recruiting and using child soldiers,” Becker said.

“Given Burma’s abysmal record on child soldiers, sanctions against the Burmese military government are clearly warranted,” said Becker, using the country’s previous name.

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