covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, March 23, 2019



By The Irrawaddy SEPTEMBER, 1997 - VOLUME 5 NO.6

They are about 13 or 15 years old, wear army uniforms and carry war weapons. By all other measures they are still children, but it is not war games they play. Burmese history is full of stories of different kings at war with each other and the modern period since 1948–when the British surrendered their colonial rule–has been little different. Almost from the day the British lowered the Union Jack, Burma has been home to a continuous civil war described by some observers as one of the most complicated conflicts in the world. Many Burmese, including children, have suffered as a result of this ongoing civil war. Mothers have lost sons, villagers lost lands and students, their future. For children, they have lost their childhood. A report, “No Childhood At All” published by Thailand-based NGO Images Asia details how children have become among the main victims of the decades-old civil war in Burma. The research, an IA spokesman said, was conducted for the UN Graca Machel Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. The report was prepared under the guidelines of the Graca Machel Study which defines “child soldiers” as combatants aged 18 and under. How many children have been killed in civil war? How many children have been recruited for fighting? How have government and rebel forces forced children to join their armies to fight “enemies?”. There is no shortage of questions about child soldiers but there has been little in the way of comprehensive research on the issue. Observers, NGOs and international human rights organizations have very few clues to what goes on in this military-dominated country. One undeniable fact is that the Burmese armed forces (tatmadaw) and its foes have widely recruited child soldiers. “The use of children as soldiers in Burma results in serious human rights abuses. Children are killed, forcibly conscripted, unwillingly separated from their families, kidnapped, tortured during their service, forced to kill and torture, and due to the rampant corruption in the tatmadaw, are underpaid, or are not paid at all,” IA said in its report. Unicef expressed its concern in 1992 saying, “many children are orphaned, abandoned, trafficked, exploited in the labour force, institutionalized or jailed. Some are used in drug-running, while others are targets of ethnic discrimination. In the civil war, children have become victims or participants in armed conflicts.” Burma is the seventh poorest country in the world. Children in Burma suffer extreme poverty. Although children make up only 15 per cent of the population they account for half the country’s annual death rate. Infant mortality is estimated at 146/1000, with 175,000 infants dying every year, the UNDP report said. An estimated 80 per cent of students enrolled in primary school drop-out before completion. Some 35 per cent of children never enroll in primary school and only 25 per cent complete the five year cycle. Ethnic border regions are severely under-serviced. Worse still, in remote border areas, ethnic minorities have virtually no public services because of the conflicts. IA said children, especially young boys, are raised to revere military leaders of the past, and to look on military induction as a sign of manhood. In much of the popular media, the soldier is held up as the perfect role-model. Particularly among the ethnic groups, where many children grow up watching their fathers go to war, as their families and villagers are terrorized by the tatmadaw, devotion to the revolutionary cause is seen as the highest calling to which one can aspire. “Since 1988 the number of soldiers in tatmadaw has swollen. The tatmadaw recruited boys who are under 14,” IA said. These boys are later sent to military training centres. Most recruits tend to be orphans, street children, criminals or those who have fled the front-line villages. “Anecdotal reports exist of such children being taken to places like Pegu, Prome, and Mandalay–cities at some distance from their homes, before they are forced in to armed service,” IA said. Unicef officials have found evidence that boys could be “officially conscripted” into the military at age 14. Unicef also identified at least one residential Slorc military camp, near Kengtung in Shan State, where children aged seven and above [believed to be orphans] were being trained for a future life with the military. The tatmadaw is not alone–ethnic armed groups including Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army (MTA), the Karen National Union, Wa and Kokang armies, Mon, Karenni, and Arakanese armies conscript children for their armies. The notorious “Tiger Camp” in Khun Sa-controlled territory was used for training thousands of children as soldiers for the MTA. The former Communist Party of Burma was reputed to use child soldiers for human wave attacks.

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.

more articles in this section