- Fact Sheet
- Current Conflict
- Use of Child Soldiers
- Sources Consulted
Union of Myanmar: Fact Sheet
- Formerly known as Burma
- Population: 50.5 million
- Government armed forces: 400,000
- Child soldiers: 70,000
- Myanmar government/State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
- United Wa Army
- Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)
- Kachin Independence Army
- Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)
- Mon National Liberation Army
- Karenni Army (KnA)
- Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment of Child Soldiers (2004)
- Child Law (1993), to comply with UN Convention on the Rights of a Child
- War Office Council Instruction 13/73 (1974), prohibits conscription of children under 18
- Myanmar Defense Services Act (1947), prohibits conscription of children under 18
Myanmar's Current Conflict
Burma (now Myanmar) became an official republic in 1948 after liberating itself from British rule. In 1962, a coup-de-etat gave socialist general Ne Win military rule and power. For the next few decades Burma was controlled by various military institutions.
Massive pro-democratic protests broke out within Burma in 1988, but were soon suppressed by the establishment of the military government called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1990, SLORC conducted democratic elections with an opposition party's candidate emerging victorious; however, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the National League for Democracy's (NLD) victory and continued its rule of Burma. SLORC's actions also account for Burma's name changing to Myanmar.
In 1992, SLORC introduced ceasefire agreements between 16-17 of the estimated 30 Burmese insurgent groups and renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). These ceasefire agreements are in still in effect, but opposition groups tend to not adhere to them and mobilize.
Myanmar continues to exclude many minority political parties from its decision making processes, including the NLD. These exclusive actions have resulted in an almost non-progressive state, and in the UN Security Council adding Myanmar to its agenda regarding human rights violations.
Myanmar's Use of Child Soldiers
The Human Rights Watch declares that "Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world and the number is growing." The majority of these child soldiers are in national army, despite its claims that it does not recruit child soldiers. The total number of child soldiers cannot be perfectly quantified, but estimates range up to 70,000.
All but the smallest of the 30 opposition forces in Burma use child soldiers; although, the national army is composed of more than ten times the number of child soldiers than all of its opposition groups combined. A sad difference between the national army and opposition groups' use of child soldiers is the fact that the government denies its wide use of child soldiers, while armies such as the Karen National Liberation Army and the Kerenni Army acknowledge the presence of child soldiers in their forces, and express interest in complying with international standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of under-age soldiers."
A 2002 investigation by the Human Rights Watch discovered that up to 20% of those serving in active duty for the government were under 18. Children as young as 11 have been forcefully recruited into the armed forces and forced to commit various human rights violations. The national army's child soldiers are also abused and put through rough training, sometimes fighting in armed conflict.
Children all throughout Myanmar are at risk of being forcefully recruited into armed forces. Although homeless children have the highest risk of being recruited, children are kidnapped on their way to and from school, at transportation stations, and in other public places. Street children are most likely to be recruited because they are least likely to protest their recruitment.
The most common way that the SPDC recruits children into armies is through force and trickery. Recruiters will approach children in public places and ask them to present an identity card. The recruiters claim that it is illegal to be in public without an identity card (even though no such law exists), and threaten to take the child to jail if he does not join the SPDC's army. Children are normally scared enough to accept this offer, and, if not, are beaten until they do. Some children are violently coerced into signing conscription forms claiming that they are 18, despite being underage. Children are then taken to recruitment camps (called "gathering places") where they are kept until they are sold (for money or rice) to battalions in need of soldiers. After being picked up by a battalion, children are taken to training camps where they are brutally trained for up to four months. This type of recruitment has been reported as recently as 2006.
At training camps, children are not allowed to contact their family. They are beaten, sometimes to the point of death, for trying to run away. Former child soldiers have reported in testimonies that they lived in poor conditions at the camps, often without sufficient food or water. Of the reported earnings of the children, it was not uncommon for some of the money to be stolen by military teachers.
Children have also reported through testimonies that about 35- 45 percent of new recruits at training camps are under 18, with 15-20 percent of those being under 15. After training, children were forced to fight in frontline combat, participate in forced labor, burn down homes, and to perform non-court ordained executions. Child soldiers are also used by the SPDC as human shields and minesweepers.
As recruiting children into the armed forces is technically against the law, some children (especially orphans and runaways) have been put into military camps like the Defense Services Academy in Yangon and kept at the camps until they are strong and big enough to be enlisted. The government told the Child Soldiers Coalition in 2004 that the academy was disbanded in 2000; however, as of 2004, this has not been verified. Children once in the program have been given the opportunity to become a part of the Nationalities Youth Development Training School, and be given education free from military training.
Close to all of the armed groups in Myanmar use child soldiers. Ceasefire agreements mediated by the SPDC in 1992 are still in effect, but they only affect 16-17 of the 30 opposition groups.
The United Wa State Army is the largest armed opposition force in Myanmar, and contains more child soldiers than any other opposition group within Myanmar. Although the United Wa State Army signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in the 1980's, it is still has up to 2,000 child soldiers in the forces- most of which attained through forced conscription. The army reportedly requires families with more than one son to give one of their sons to the army for training.
The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has up to 500 child soldiers currently serving within its forces. Although the KNLA has set 18 as a minimum recruitment age, children in the past were permitted to join by volunteering. As of 2000 the KNLA has made efforts to prohibit underage recruits from existing in its forces; however, children recruited before this decision have been displaced into administrative positions.
The Kachin Independence Army, who has also signed a ceasefire agreement with the government, claims that it has no child soldiers; although, reports do indicate that children participate in petty work on roads and farms. The army is the only reported opposition group to recruit girls.
The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army does not have a minimum recruitment age, and it has been estimated that up to 50% of new recruits were under 18.
The Mon National Liberation Army agreed to a ceasefire in 1995, but is reported to have child soldiers.
A senior official of the Karenni Army (KnA), the armed sector of the Karenni National Progressive Party admitted in 2002 that it contains around 200 child soldiers.
- Becker, Jo. "Children at War." Human Rights Watch. 16 October 2002. 21 January 2007. <http://hrw.org/english/docs/2002/10/16/burma12882_txt.htm>.
- Bray, Marianne. "Child soldiers in Myanmar's front line." CNN.com. 15 June 2001. 21 January 2007. <http://edition.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/06/12/myanmar.childsoldiers/index.html>.
- "Burma: World's Highest Number of Child Soldiers." Human Rights Watch. 16 October 2002. 21 January 2007 <http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/10/burma-1016.htm.>
- "Child Soldiers Global Report 2004." Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. 2004. 20 January 2007 <http://www.khrg.org/khrg2006/khrg06f2.html>.
- "Interview with an SPDC Child Soldier." Karen Human Rights Group. 26 April 2006. 21 January 2007 <http://www.khrg.org/khrg2006/khrg06f2.html>.
- "Myanmar." Child Soldiers Global Report 2004. 2004. 20 January 2007 <http://www.child-soldiers.org/document_get.php?id=860>.