Alex Rontey World Civ B Mr. Loughead Child Soldiers in Burma Introduction This paper concerns the employment of child soldiers (peoples under 18), by The Burma Army and various other resistance forces in present day Burma. It has been estimated that there are currently about 50,000 – 70,000 child soldiers serving in the Burma Tatmadaw (the military). They are forcibly conscripted with usually no word to their families, and forced to commit abuse upon civilians and fight in dangerous battle conditions. They are often simply picked up off the street and brought to a recruitment center and are detained until being sent off to a training camp. Beaten often and forced to perform dangerous training activities and fight in battles where they are often killed. The government says it has a policy of only accepting soldiers who are above 18. Global Background Child soldiers are any persons who voluntarily or are forced to, join any kind of armed forces. Children have been used in many cultures throughout all of civilization as members of military forces. It goes back as far as pre middle ages in cultures such as the Greeks, Roman, Hittites, and even other parts of Europe such as France. They were employed in the Napoleonic army, and even into the 2 World Wars, notably the HitlerJugend that were used as a fighting force as Germany began to fall in the last months of WWII, and in WWI where British recruiters knowingly recruited boys as young as 16. Today children are still being used as combatants and/or accessories to militaries and armed forces around the world. Often they are forced to perform dangerous acts of combat, live in difficult hash conditions, abused and beaten, forcibly removed from their homes, forced to commit atrocities such as killing family members and others, drugged, starved, and used as sex slaves. Children who are able to leave or escape the army often are not able to go home as a result of their families being killed, or for the fear that they might be re-captured and beaten and re-absorbed into the force they escaped. Often they are traumatized, and suffer from symptoms of PTSD and other mental health issues. Currently at least 300,000 child soldiers are being used around the world in countries such as Uganda, Dominican Republic, Palestinian, Liberia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, and the USA even will enlist and train 17 year olds, although for strictly non-combatant use. However it is believed that the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) currently employs the largest number of active duty child soldiers; in both the governmental army (Tatmadaw) and in the many other rebel armed forces. Country Background Myanmar, or Burma as it is called by people who do not believe the current government to be legitimate, is a country in South East Asia, it lies between Laos and Bangladesh. It is unknown what the exact population is, but is estimated around 50 million. The population is made up mostly of the Burmese speaking Bamar who form an estimated 68% of the population. The religion is made up mostly of Theravada school Buddhism, with a very small percentage of Christianity and Islam. From 1962 to 1988 ruled by General Ne Win under a military junta. He ruled under strict control and effectively crushed any political uprisings, and threw the economy into an extremely xenophobic state. He died in 2002 after a military uprising put him under house arrest. When Ne Win was overthrown by the SLORC Than Shwe was appointed one of its 21 members and later took head chairmen where he currently rules as Dictator. There are many (as many as 15) other armed forces operating in Myanmar other then the official government run Tatmadaw, who employ the use of child soldiers. Although most of them have ceasefire agreements with the Myanmar government, many still actively scout out new child recruits. Discussion of The Problem It is declared illegal by the “United Nations International Human Rights Law”: "State parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities." And the recent Optional Protocol: “State Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons below the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities and that they are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces.” The Geneva Conventions has similar restrictions on children being used as soldiers. The Myanmar government claims that it does not allow people under the age of 18 to join the military, and that it does not forcibly conscript any of its recruits. These statements have been disproved countless times by interviews with former and current soldiers, who have recounted many brutal experiences as child soldiers from recruitment to training, to battle. Typically the required service in the Tatmadaw can last the majority of a person’s life and it is very difficult for a person to be able to leave. Often a soldier is able to apply for dismissal from service if he can fill his quota of new recruits. Sometimes 5 sometimes 10 and even then it is not guaranteed to get him a dismissal, along with this, a recruited child will often equal a monetary reward and some rice. These soldiers often resort to recruiting children because they are easily intimidated and are easy to influence. Usually they sift through crowded market places and train stations where children can be found working to support their families. The soldier will commonly approach the child and ask to see his ID. Children of young ages rarely ever have ID and do not know the law concerning them. When the child does not have the ID the soldier will tell him that he has to either serve a very long prison sentence or join the military. Not wanting to have to go to prison they join the military “by choice”. Not all are forced to recruit, some join on their own freewill. If a child’s family is unable to support it, or if the child wishes to support his family, he will join the military to receive a relatively fair amount of pay. There are also special programs called “Ye Nyunt” that are aboy scouts like education program for Myanmar children similar to the HitlerJugend, as it prepared them for the military, and they are recruited directly from the schools. Upon recruitment all new soldier are held in a Su Saun Yay recruitment camps for sometimes longer then a week. They are kept in a small fenced enclosure and constantly in danger of being beaten. Many of then get sicknesses like cholera and malaria. After being processed and organized into training groups in the recruitment camps they are sent off to the training camps to be trained for about 5 months. They receive the same training as the adult soldiers and this is often very harsh on their younger bodies, they penalty for mistakes is often a group beating, or being locked in the stocks. These children are recorded as being 18 years old in official military records, as they are pressured to lie about their age at recruitment. These are only the practices of the official Myanmar Tatmadaw, the many other rebel forces have not been researched enough to know their practices very well, but their use of children is similar to the Tatmadaw. Girls are not usually recruited; however there are certain factions that have been know to recruit girls under the age of 18. After training they are assigned to a battalion and deployed into active duty. Between the times that they are on duty they have a months rest period where they generally do labor and guard duty. Often the labor or orders issued to them are nearly impossible to fulfill, and they are severely beaten by their commanding officers. This can sometimes be so bad the soldier will require medical help, but the camp wards are of poor quality and they usually need to be rushed to a real hospital, though by they arrive it is usually too late and they are already dead. Active duty consists of mostly going into the population and detaining them for forced labor. They are also forced into live battle where their small stature gives them a severe disadvantage, in many accounts from former child soldiers, they recall that they are too scared to fight, but are afraid of being beaten when the commanders discover that they had not fired any bullets so they hide them selves and fire their guns into the air. Though many do fight and die, some do not have problems with fighting. They witness other children being killed and are forced to kill members of the opposing force, that often are comprised of children just like themselves. Many desert the army, which is a very dangerous task that has severe consequences for the soldier and even his family. Some commit suicide because they believe that it is impossible for them to safely escape, and that they have no future anymore. After legally leaving the army, although it may be hard to re-adapt, it is much more favorable then deserting. Some children report that they desert the army only to the rejoin and pretend that they were never in the army in fear that they will be discovered and punished. It is estimated that as much as 45% of the Myanmar Tatmadaw is comprised of children under 18. The country has not taken steps to stop the use of child soldiers as they employ them for their own use. Many other countries have pressured Myanmar to abolish the child soldier policy, and they maintain that they do not use child soldiers. This is proven to be untrue. Conclusion It is uncertain whether this crisis can ever be solved without the assistance of other countries. While the treatment of these child soldiers is much less severe then is is in places such as Africa (LRA), these children do not have any government actively trying to help them, it is all recommendations to cease their employment from other countries. Unless action is taken children will continue to be used as soldiers in Myanmar. 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