Release of child soldiers and new campaign a sign of progress

By September 5, 2013

Burma (MNN) — Burma has a long history of sending kids to the front line of battle.

While exact numbers are practically impossible to obtain, a 2002 report places the number of child soldiers in Burma's military around 70,000. (Image courtesy Partners)

While exact numbers are practically impossible to obtain, a 2002 report places the number of child soldiers in Burma’s military around 70,000. (Image courtesy Partners)

Referring to a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), Steve Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development says Burma used to have the most child soldiers in the world.

“As of 2002, up to 20% of the 500,000-man strong armed forces [are] children under 18,” he states.

In its 2002 report, “My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma,” HRW underlines the fact that putting a precise number on the amount of children in Burma’s army is virtually impossible.

However, the 220-page report gives a highly-detailed portrayal of this ongoing crisis, and calls the international community to action.

“The international community has increasingly recognized the use of child soldiers as unacceptable,” said Jo Becker, HRW’s advocacy director of the Children’s Rights Division, in the report.

“Burma’s armed forces and groups must immediately stop recruiting children, and demobilize all children in their ranks.”

Partners has worked alongside the Free Burma Rangers throughout the nation formerly known as Myanmar for over 15 years.

“What I have seen and experienced first-hand is the regime taking children out of villages that they have attacked and using them for menial labor, such as portaging water, food; cleaning their camp and carrying weapons,” recounts Gumaer.

“What is more widely reported is the regime’s use of their lower-ranking soldiers to recruit children…into the armed forces.”

Between 300,000 and 900,000 children are internally displaced in Burma. Three years ago, Partners released a document outlining some of the challenges they face: random killings, torture and mistreatment, spontaneous arrest and detention, rape and sexual violence, forced labor and recruitment as child soldiers.

Read the full text of “Displaced Childhoods” here.

Over a decade has passed since HRW’s detailed report was released. While the use of child soldiers is still a problem in Burma, some things are changing for the better.

According to The Irrawaddy, a new billboard in downtown Rangoon is one of those positive changes. It’s reportedly part of a “No Child Soldiers” campaign aimed at ending the recruitment of underage soldiers.

In addition, Burma’s military discharged over 100 child soldiers between the months of July and August.

“Compared to the overwhelming numbers that are still in the armed forces, it’s very small, but…it’s something,” says Gumaer.

“Hopefully, the changes they’ve initiated will continue so that their army will shrink considerably, and that shrinkage will be due to the release of underage combatants.”

Pray Burma’s journey toward democracy continues.

Throughout Burma, Partners surrounds refugee families with God’s love.

“We’ve been able to provide help and concrete expressions of God’s compassion to these vulnerable people, to the tune of about 500,000 people in a year,” says Gumaer.

Click here to see how you can come alongside their work.

“The other thing we can do as we pray is to give,” Gumaer says, “so that those kids can have some concrete expression of love expressed to them.”

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