Myanmar’s use of child soldiers under fire

The poverty of rural Myanmar makes children vulnerable to enforced recruitment. Source: Asean Economist

Washington has downgraded Myanmar in its annual human trafficking report, citing its failure to reduce the use of child soldiers primarily by the government, according to the head of Myanmar’s anti-human trafficking force.

“The US pointed out some points that we police have been working on. It also pointed out the child soldier issue, which the military is working on,” said Lieutenant Colonel Thet Naung, head of the police Anti-Human Trafficking Team.

Around 382 military personnel will face disciplinary action after they were found to have been to recruiting child soldiers, it was reported this month.
A total of 744 child soldiers have reportedly been returned to their homes since a 2012 initiative was signed to end underage recruitment.

This week’s US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report ranks 188 countries on how they handle human trafficking and assigns them one of four rankings, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

The minimum standards under US law include government prohibition and punishment of human trafficking, and serious and sustained efforts to eliminate the practice.

Myanmar’s use of child soldiers was also mentioned in last year’s TIP report.

“Some military personnel and some armed ethnic groups continue to be involved in the recruitment and use of child soldiers, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas,” said the 2014 TIP report.

Monitoring groups, such as the United Nations International Labour Organisation and United Nations children’s fund (Unicef), had said that the incidence of forced conscription had been decreasing. But TIP reported that government forces and some armed rebel groups continued to force men and boys to serve through the use of intimidation, coercion, threats and violence.

Myanmar had been listed as a Tier 3 country for 10 years in the TIP until 2010, and then as a Tier 2 watch list nation for four years up to 2014 before going back to Tier 3 status this year, Thet Naung said.

“We heard that a country will automatically fall into Tier 3 if it stays on the Tier 2 watch list for three years, but the US kept us under Tier 2 watch list last year because it was pleased about what we had done regarding human trafficking,” he added.

Tier 2 watch list nations do not comply with the TVPA but are seen as making significant efforts to bring themselves in line with the standards.

Tier 3 countries, however, are assessed as not complying with the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The report also criticised the new government’s apparent failure to tackle the Rohingya issue in impoverished Rakhine State.

Of the 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya in the state, about 120,000 shelter in refugee camps since being burned from their homes by their Buddhist neighbours in 2012.

Thousands have fled as asylum seekers, often ending up as trafficking victims and sold as forced labourers elsewhere.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority largely refuses to use the term Rohingya, instead opting for “Bengali”, illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, denying the group’s ethnically distinct roots in Rakhine State.

The government denies them full citizenship, basic rights, freedom of movement, access to social services and education.

TIP’s 2015 report said the Rohingya and other refugee groups continued to be vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour.