6. Rights of the Child
6.1 Situation of Children in Burma
6.2 Status of Education of Children in Burma
6.3 Status of Health of Children in Burma
6.4 Children in Prison and Labor Camps
6.5 Child Labor
6.6 Child Soldiers
6.7 Child Trafficking
6.8 Children in Armed Conflict
6.9 Sexual Assault against Children
6.1 Situation of Children in Burma
Burma became a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 15 August 1991. The CRC affirms that every child has the right to protection, the right to life, and the right to survival and development. The CRC also specifically refers to the protection of children in armed conflict and mandates that no child under 15 should take part in hostilities; that children should not be separated from their parents except for their own well-being; that states should protect children from harm and neglect; and that all children should be entitled to the rights enshrined in the convention, without discrimination. The military regime promulgated the new Child Law on 14 July 1993 to “implement the rights of the child recognized in the Convention.” According to the Child Law, Chapter 5, Paragraph 8, “the State recognizes that every child has the right to survival, development, protection and care, and to achieve active participation in the community.” The regime’s decision to accede to the CRC was considered a step of progress and temporarily improved its image in the international community. However, widespread evidence of continuing violations against children has shown that the military regime has taken little action to enforce these laws.
In 2002, Burma published and submitted its second periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which outlined action taken by the military regime to uphold the provisions of the Convention. The report, which was two years overdue, was reviewed by the Committee on 26 May 2004 during its thirty-sixth session. SPDC representatives claimed the junta has been “giving top priority to the rights of children in our national agenda” and that there were “significant achievements in promoting and protecting the rights of children.” (Source: “Statement by Professor Dr. May May Yi, Advisor for Women’s Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office and Leader of the Delegation of Burma,” Thirty-Sixth Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 26 May 2004). However, in its concluding observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that the regime’s initiatives have done little to improve the situation for children. Instead, the Committee expressed concern for, among other issues, the significant reduction in resources allocated to health and education, inequalities between rural and urban as well as ethnic minority children, and the affects of Burma’s political instability and continued armed conflict on the development of children. (Source: “Concluding Observations: Myanmar,” Thirty-sixth session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 4 June 2005).
Years of ongoing civil war and poor governance have led to widespread poverty, low levels of education, poor healthcare, and systematic human rights abuses. Children, who comprise approximately 40 percent of the population, are disproportionately affected by all of these factors. Decreased national spending on education has resulted in the deterioration of the quality of primary education, coinciding with increased illiteracy and dropout rates. Similarly, lack of spending on healthcare has resulted in Burma’s healthcare system being ranked 190 out of 191 countries by the World Health Organization in 2000. According to UNICEF, of the 1.3 million children born every year in Burma, more than 92,500 will die before they reach age one. The majority of infant mortality has been attributed to insufficient medical knowledge and services. As poverty has consumed the population, children are frequently required to contribute to their family’s livelihood either by participating in family businesses, seeking external employment, or fulfilling a family’s obligations to participate in regime forced labor projects. Children are not exempted from serving as porters for the military or being recruited to serve in the armed forces.
Ethnic minority children are particularly vulnerable, not only suffering from severe discrimination but also suffering from the consequences of protracted armed conflict. Children living in ethnic minority areas, like other members of their communities, are subject to physical injury, torture, rape, murder, forced labor, and forced relocation as the SPDC attempts to suppress any opposition, both armed and unarmed. Children in these areas also often witness atrocities carried out against their family and community members; endure separation from their families and communities; and suffer from extremely limited access to healthcare, education, housing, and food. There can be no improvement in the situation for the children of Burma without a radical change in the regime and progress towards democracy.
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6.2 Status of Education of Children in Burma
“States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need.” - Article 28, Paragraph 1, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
As a signatory to the CRC, the SPDC is obligated to work towards attaining equal access to education for all children and making primary education compulsory and free to all. To this end, the SPDC has maintained that it has endeavored to “facilitate children’s accessibility to education even in the remote regions of the country” as part of the “Education for All” National Action Plan (source: “Statement by His Excellency U Nyunt Maung Shein, Leader of the Myanmar Observer Delegation,” Sixty-First Session of the Commission on Human Rights, 14 April 2005). Despite these claims, education in Burma remained deplorable throughout 2005. (For more information see Chapter 9 Rights to Education and Health).
The SPDC’s deteriorating education system and failure to fulfill its obligations as a signatory to the Convention are a direct result of the disproportionate allocation of the national budget which renders social services, such as education, under funded. According to the U.S. Department of State, in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the SPDC spent 1.3 percent of the national budget on education. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2004).
To advance basic education in the country, the SPDC publicized the implementation of a short-term four-year education plan from 2000-2004 and a 30-year long-term plan from 2001-2031. Specifically, the four-year plan focuses on improving basic education by universalizing primary education, increasing teacher education, revising basic curriculum, instituting new assessment systems, establishing multi-media classrooms, and providing more support in general. In conjunction with the 2000 to 2004 four-year plan, the SPDC claimed to have upgraded 1,257 basic education schools. Yet, these schools reportedly remain useless as the regime has failed to provide teachers.
In 2003, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) reported that there are approximately 39,000 regime-run primary schools in the country, or one for every two villages. Only 46 percent of these schools have toilets and only 17 percent have running water. Children who live in remote rural areas often have to walk considerable distances to reach a school. UNESCO estimates that some 2,000 villages are more than 3 km. from the nearest primary school. Secondary schools pose even greater accessibility challenges, as there are fewer than 3,000 in the whole country. Furthermore, according to a joint inquiry by the Ministry of Education, the UNDP and UNESCO, 57 percent of schools are overpopulated due to inadequate buildings. (Source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003).
In 2005, Germany contributed US$1million towards UNICEF’s primary education program to improve the quality of education and provide basic necessities such as water and sanitation facilities to impoverished children in Burma (source: “Germany Gives UNICEF $1 Million for Children in Burma,” VOA, 4 February 2005). Rampant corruption and misappropriation of money, however, impedes funds from improving the situation in Burma. For example, in April 2005, it was reported that 5,000,000 kyat and 500 bags of cement allocated for the construction of Sanay-nan Primary School in Yenanchaung Township, Magwe Division in 2000 were instead used to erect two homes for the township USDA secretary, U Aung Naing Win. As a result of this misuse of funds, children in the area were forced to use space in a Buddhist monastery for classrooms throughout 2005. (Source: “Burmese Authorities Misappropriates Money for Children Education,” DVB, 11 April 2005).
According to Article 20 of Burma’s 1993 Child Law, “Every child shall have the right to free basic primary education in state schools and that the Ministry of Education shall implement a system of free and compulsory primary education.” While the law stipulates that education must be free for all children, in actuality, it is not. Up to the fourth standard, children are not required to pay for enrollment or monthly tuition fees but they must cover other costs for supplies, school repairs, USDA membership fees, forced contributions to special projects, and supplements to teacher salaries. Beyond fourth standard, students are required to cover all costs. At the beginning of the 2005-06 school year, on average, students faced an enrollment fee of 6,000 to 9,000 kyat in rural areas and between 10,000 to 15,000 kyat in urban zones (source: “High Drop-Out Rates in Government Schools and SPDC’s Oppression against Mon National Schools,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, July 2005). The high costs of education are particularly prohibitive for children whose families often live hand-to-mouth existences. Children whose parents are farmers frequently subsidize their education through a combined payment of money and agricultural produce. In urban areas, inflation and low salaries inhibited parents from meeting the high costs of their children’s education. (Sources: “Basic Education Fees Increased,” Kaowao News, 14 June 2005; “A Cartload of Sesame Seeds for A Child Education in Burma,” DVB, 6 June 2005).
Rising education costs, compounded by the failing economy, have contributed to high dropout rates and lack of enrollment as most families are unable to afford the costs of education fees. Other barriers to school attendance include the widespread use of civilian forced labor and the ongoing recruitment of children into the armed forces. According to UNESCO, the dropout rate stands at 45 percent. Only half of all children who enter primary school in Burma reach the fifth standard. (Source: “Asia Has the Highest Number of Children Out of School: UNESCO,” AFP, 10 February 2004). Given the high drop out rate from primary level education, Burma is second only to Papua New Guinea as having the poorest rate of primary school matriculation in the Asia-Pacific region (source: “Burma Struggling to Meet Millennium Development Goals,” Irrawaddy, 7 September 2005).
Parents who cannot afford to send all their children to school often choose to educate their sons over their daughters. As a result, less than one third of all female students who begin primary school manage to graduate (source: CEDAW, 2002). The high dropout rate of female students stems primarily from traditional beliefs about gender roles as well as early marriage and pregnancy. Girls and young women that maintain their enrollment in the educational system, meanwhile, are expected to manage both educational and domestic responsibilities, which often results in poor scholastic performance and a high dropout rate.
Education in Burma is further compromised by the low wages provided to teachers. In 2005, teachers’ salaries ranged from 4,500 to 10,000 kyat per month (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, 10 August 2005). Moreover, in June 2004, it was reported that the junta no longer provided civil servants, including teachers, supplementary rice provisions. Instead, the regime increased salaries by 5,000 kyat. Even with this additional money, teachers have not been able to sustain themselves on these earnings alone. Therefore, teachers limit the information taught during the class period to only basic concepts and ideas, reserving in-depth explanations to after-hours tutoring sessions. The additional sessions are necessary to pass exams compelling students to pay the substantial fees required by teachers to attend the extra-curricular courses. A student in Tenasserim Division reported having to pay 700 kyat per subject each month (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, 10 August 2005). Teachers in rural areas have also been reported to engage in agricultural work or selling items in the market as a means of incurring additional income, which reduces their hours in the classroom. (Source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003).
Lack of teacher training and experience has further eroded the quality of education in Burma. According to the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), teachers who receive their training through the University of Education are taught teacher-centered teaching methods and rote learning that fail to embrace independent, creative or critical thinking. At the same time, a large percentage of teachers based in rural or ethnic minority areas graduate from the University for Development of National Races that offers a masters degree in philosophy and education. These teachers are taught by members of the regime to perpetuate militaristic ideology through their lessons. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
State promoted teaching methods and curriculum also serve as a method of deterring students from becoming involved in political activities. The strictly controlled curriculum serves to thwart political dissent by incorporating negative perspectives of democracy while promoting notions of military rule. Teachers are also forced to ensure that their students do not get involved in anti-military activities. In addition, schools are subject to arbitrary closures by the regime in times of political unrest as students are perceived as a potential source of dissent. Student unions are strictly banned and any assembly of students, regardless of the purpose, has also been banned. However, students are frequently forced to join the USDA through which they must participate in activities organized by SPDC military officers and perform for high-ranking officials when they visit schools. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
Schools for Children of the Military Elite and Private Schools
Children of the military elite attend exclusive primary and secondary schools with access to modern equipment and amenities such as computers, computer training, school trips and sports. According the ABFSU, registration fees for these schools can range from US$100 to 200 per year, which is beyond the means of most civilians. Children who attend these schools are indoctrinated to military ideology. Furthermore, students who attend military universities are endowed with certain privileges and are perceived as the future political, economic, military and social affairs leaders. Students from these schools are more likely to receive highly-coveted opportunities for study abroad, which are awarded based on the student’s connections with regime officials rather than academic competence. (Source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003).
Private schools also exist in Burma, however, this option is only accessible to those with adequate financial means such as wealthy businessmen, foreign diplomats, high ranking military officials and their cohorts. At the International Language and Business Center in Rangoon, tuition starts at around 1.1 million kyat (US$ 1,160) per year for kindergarten students and rises as students move onto higher grades. Many private schools cost even more. (Source: Kyaw Zwa Moe, “Educating the Elite," Irrawaddy, July 2003).
Education in Ethnic Minority and Conflict Areas
Ethnic minority children, particularly those in areas of active armed conflict, suffer disproportionately from Burma’s failing education system. Aside from the obstacles to education faced by children in other areas of Burma, children in these areas endure the obstacles posed by an environment of ongoing human rights abuses such as forced labor, sexual violence, torture, extra-judicial killing and restrictions on movement. In 1999, UNICEF reported that 84 percent of all children who dropout of primary school in Burma come from ethnic border areas. According to junta statistics, only 1.6 percent of children living in ethnic border areas attend school. Only 10 percent of children in Karen, Karenni, and Shan States attend school while in other areas, such as Arakan State and the Wa areas of Shan State, the percentage is even lower. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
Most schools in rural and ethnic minority areas under SPDC control are critically under funded and those that exist are reportedly old and in disrepair. The Ministry of Progress and Border Areas, National Races, and Development Affairs has claimed that new schools have been constructed in ethnic minority areas. While new schools may exist, they are completely lacking in resources. In addition, villagers are often forced to provide for building supplies, labor and all related school costs. Villagers have also been required to find teachers and provide for their salaries. (Source: Dooplaya District. Fighting and Human Rights Abuse Still Continue After Ceasefire, KHRG, 18 February 2005). As most villagers in rural ethnic areas survive on seasonal work, their income is not sufficient to cover all the costs of a child’s education. Therefore, teachers are often compensated with agricultural produce. In addition, many families rely on the contribution of all family members to maintain their livelihood, including children. The demands of survival often influence children to discontinue their education after reaching fourth standard. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU-FAC, February 2005).
The SPDC bans the study of ethnic languages in all public schools, which has been viewed as a “political tool in the ‘Burmanization’ of ethnic regions” (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). In addition, the junta- approved curriculum does not embrace notions of ethnic and cultural diversity nor does it allow for local history to be taught. Children are often forced to learn their ethnic language and history from their parents or through private schools. (Source: Year 2004 Education Report, ABFSU- FAC, February 2005). Yet, even these outlets are targeted by the military authorities. Since 2004, the military has forced over 63 self-funded Mon National Schools to close. Mon school closures occurred concurrently with the NMSP along with other ceasefire ethnic groups making demands for ethnic rights at the National Convention, the ongoing junta-sponsored constitutional-drafting sessions. The junta responded by forcibly shutting down the traditional Mon National Schools, which were formerly allowed to teach the Mon language and history alongside the SPDC-mandated curricula (source: “Forced Labor Campaign to Build High Schools,” Kaowao News, 11 January 2005). Some schools in Mon State have been forced to relocate. The relocation costs fall on the community with little to no compensation from the junta (source: Saw Ehna and C. Guinard, “A Dangerous Journey to Get to School: Why Are Students Fleeing the Burmese Education System?” BI, July 2005). In July 2005, when the SPDC forced a school in Lamine in southern Mon State to move, the community was offered 1.5 million kyat in compensation. The community, however, had originally spent nearly 20 million kyat to construct the school (source: “Mon National School Moved by SPDC,” Kaowao News, 20 July 2005). In other areas the junta has simply confiscated school property without regard for the effect on local students’ access to education. In Ye Township in Mon State, for example, soldiers threatened villagers not to maintain or repair their own schools and conscripted locals into a forced labor squad where one person from each household was required to work everyday to build junta-run high schools (source: “Forced Labor Campaign to Build High Schools,” Kaowao News, 11 January 2005).
Children who live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) have the least access to education. IDP communities often establish small provisional schools, sometimes with support from cross border relief projects. Otherwise, these schools use whatever materials they can find in the jungle. However, instruction proceeds in a tenuous environment as villagers must be prepared to flee at any time. SPDC armed forces frequently burn schools down along with other IDP shelters. When a new hiding place is secured, schools must be re-established. Children living in this context are often able to study for short periods each year. (Source: Toungoo District: Civilians Displaced by Dams, Roads and Military Control, KHRG, 19 August 2005).
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6.3 Status of Health of Children in Burma
“States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services.”- Article 24, Paragraph 1, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
As a consequence of their marginalized position, children are typically the group least able to access the dwindling resources of Burma’s healthcare system. This situation has continued despite requirements in the CRC that children’s “right to life, and the right to survival and development” be protected. Although the budget granted to the Ministry of Health in the 2003-2004 period reportedly doubled from the previous financial year, it has remained inadequate. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State reported in 2005 that the SPDC allocated only 1.2 percent of total budget expenditures to healthcare. As such, children in Burma continued to endure a healthcare system devoid of skilled health practitioners, proper medical facilities, and adequate information. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005). (For more information see Chapter 9 Rights to Education and Health).
The most recent statistics on child mortality within Burma, as derived from a 2004 UNICEF survey, show that 76 out of 1,000 infants die within their first year and 106 out of 1,000 children die before they reach five years of age (source: The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible, UNICEF, 2005). A joint UN and Asian Development Bank report highlighted Burma’s slow progress in attaining the UN Millennium Development Goals relating to child mortality (source: A Future Within Reach: Reshaping Institutions in a Region of Disparities to Meet the Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific, United Nations Publications, 2005). AIDS, diarrhea, hepatitis B, malaria, measles, pneumonia, and tuberculosis have all been cited at the main causes of death or illness among children in Burma, while lack of knowledge and insufficient medical attention have been cited as major contributors to infant mortality (source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003).
Despite Burma’s abundance of arable land, a report conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in 2000 revealed that 35.3 percent of children under five are moderately to severely underweight, 33.9 percent are moderately to severely underdeveloped and 9.4 percent are moderately to severely emaciated (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005). In some of the more remote border regions the rate of chronic malnourishment is as high as 70 percent (source: “Myanmar to Lift Food Aid Tax, Barriers Remain-WFP,” Reuters, 5 August 2005). James Morris, director of the World Food Program, identified Burma’s military junta as the primary factor hindering local subsistence and the distribution of food aid, saying “clearly the responsibility for these issues rests with the government” (source: “Myanmar to Lift Food Aid Tax, Barriers Remain-WFP,” Reuters, 5 August 2005). Furthermore, due to increasing economic stagnation fewer people in Burma were able to provide food support to children residing in monasteries, nunneries, and orphanages (source: “Instability Leaves Burmese Orphans at Risk of Hunger,” DVB, 24 August 2005).
Due to the SPDC’s limited investment in healthcare, most of the aid provided to children in Burma comes from external agencies, including UNICEF, UNAIDS and the WFP. UNICEF has worked on curbing the rate of vitamin A and iodine deficiency and pledged in 2005 to focus on anemia reduction among children. The agency has been working with rural health services to provide approximately 70 million iron foliate tablets for 350,000 pregnant women as well as 207,000 bottles of iron syrup for children in target areas. (Source: “UNICEF Calls for Greater International Support for Improving Myanmar Children's Nutrition,” Xinhua, 8 September 2005). Furthermore, efforts to reduce mortality rates were made through a recent collaboration of UNICEF and health officials to immunize up to 15 million children against measles, a main cause of death for those under age five (source: “UNICEF to Intensify Measles Program in Burma,” Irrawaddy, 10 October 2005).
Children and HIV/AIDS
UNAIDS has estimated that over 3,000 to 4,000 HIV-positive babies are born each year in Burma. According to UNICEF, mother-to-child transmission is the most common mode of infection for those under 15. As such, the agency launched a new program in 2005 to provide preventative treatment to mothers and children in Burma’s 10 largest major hospitals. The project is slated for expansion throughout the country. (Source: “Myanmar Launches U.N.-Sponsored Program to Prevent Mother-to-Child,” AP, 17 May 2005).
Children are also increasingly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS inside Burma and abroad due to the rising number of children being trafficked into the sex industry from Burma. The AIDS epidemic has fuelled the demand for young prostitutes who are mistakenly believed to be less likely infected. The demand in neighboring countries for young “virgin” girls has increased the likelihood that children trafficked will be sold multiple times to customers intending to have unprotected sex with them. Like adults, children with HIV/AIDS not only face difficulties in obtaining adequate healthcare, but they also face difficulties accessing other social services because of the stigma associated with the disease. (For more information see Section 6.7 Child Trafficking and Chapter 9 Rights to Education and Health).
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6.4 Children in Prison and Labor Camps
According to the 1993 Child Law, children must be at least 7 years-old to be held accountable for criminal activity. The 1993 Child Law also defines persons between the ages of 16 and 18 as “youth” and not “children.” As a result, “youth” are treated as adults under the penal code. Meanwhile, the Child Law makes no provisions for ensuring juvenile offenders have access to legal assistance. Like adults, children who are held in detention are often subject to prolonged periods of detention in poor conditions prior to their trials. (Source: “Concluding Observations: Myanmar,” Thirty-sixth session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 4 June 2004). Child prisoners have reportedly suffered rape and physical abuse at the hands of the prison authorities.
In October 2005, UNICEF conducted trainings to demonstrate how to contend with cases of juvenile offenders without causing negative physical or mental consequences. Following the trainings, the National Committee of the Rights of the Child was reportedly formulating a plan to utilize these trained officers as a special task force for juvenile offenders. (Source: “UN Agency Trains Myanmar Police Officers,” Xinhua, 6 October 2005). In addition, a national juvenile justice inter-agency working group was reportedly established (source: “Interim Report of the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,” Sixtieth Session of the UN General Assembly, Item 73(c) of the provisional agenda, 12 August 2005).
Children in Prison Labor Camps
There are an unknown number of children who are serving time for petty offences in prison labor camps. Children are sentenced for different reasons, such as not registering with local authorities or fleeing the army after forced conscription. Ethnic minority children are particularly targeted. Conditions in prison labor camps are notoriously harsh, and there are no special provisions made for underage prisoners. Like adults, children are subject to long work hours with no breaks, dangerous work, inadequate food, physical abuse, exposure to infectious diseases and a total lack of healthcare. There are no exact figures available for the number of child deaths in labor camps.
Children in Prison with Their Mothers
Children who are either born in prison or imprisoned with their mothers endure the same poor treatment and living conditions as their mothers, despite the fact that they are innocent of any criminal charges. When a mother is arrested in Burma, it is common for her young children to stay with her inside her prison cell. Furthermore, imprisoned pregnant women are denied access to proper pre-natal care and during birth they are usually forced to rely on the assistance of fellow prisoners, who may or may not have relevant skills. As a result, a high number of children born in prison die during childbirth due to complications. After giving birth, female prisoners are forced to care for their new born babies under the same restrictions and harsh living conditions, adversely affecting the health of both mother and child. A former political prisoner, Yu Yu Hlaing, reported that she was unable to produce breast milk for her new born baby for three days while in Mergui Prison due to the lack of adequate food sources. (Source: Women Political Prisoners in Burma, AAPP and BWU, September 2004).
Women and their children suffer from the inadequate healthcare, unsanitary conditions and lack of nutritious food. Children in prison have no access to medicine, besides that provided by family members. The majority of children suffer from malnutrition. Furthermore, no provisions are made for children’s mental and physical development. There are no books or toys for children and movement is restricted to inside the cells. According to one former political prisoner, “Children who lived in prison with their mothers knew nothing of the world. Sometimes we met children who did not know what dogs were. They were the children who did not know what a motorcar was, and didn’t know people outside of the wall were free” (source: Women Political Prisoners in Burma, AAPP & BWU, September 2004). Upon reaching the age of five, children are taken away from their mothers and put into the care of social services if there are no relatives to take responsibility for them. Some reports indicate that children are sent to orphanages, while others are sent to military training camps and are later forced to become child soldiers (source: “The Youngest Political Prisoner in Burma,” DVB, 14 October 2003).
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6.5 Child Labor
“States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” - Article 32, Paragraph 1, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
As Burma’s economy has steadily deteriorated, many families have become increasingly reliant upon all members of the family, including young children, to obtain sources of income for their livelihood. Seeking employment may often result in children leaving their homes in rural areas to live in urban areas as well as relinquishing their educational opportunities. While the 1993 Child Law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 13, the restrictions are rarely enforced. In addition, Burma has not ratified ILO Convention 138 regarding minimum age standards for labor or ILO Convention 182 regarding the worst forms of child labor. According to the U.S. Department of State, children’s presence in the work force has become “increasingly prevalent and visible.” (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005).
While children in Burma have traditionally contributed labor for their family farms or household duties, they are increasingly engaged in labor in a variety of industries. Children are employed in the agricultural, fishing, service, domestic, manufacturing, sex and construction sectors. Many children are forced to work long hours for little pay while often losing their opportunity to obtain a basic education. According to the Women and Child Rights Project (WCRP), children are often paid lower salaries than adults for the same work, providing an incentive for shop owners to employ them. Children between the ages of seven and 10 are frequently employed as servers in tea and coffee shops in Rangoon, receiving salaries of approximately 5,000 kyat per month for 16 hour days. (Source: “Child Labor in Burma,” The Plight of Women and Children in Burma, WCRP, Issue No. 4/2005, December 2005). Children employed in factories contend with the same lack of protection as adult factory workers due to the ban on trade unions, lack of workers’ rights, and little regulation of workplace standards (source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003).
Children have also resorted to begging as a means of survival. In December 2005, the WCRP reported that the presence of child beggars is the result of both the deteriorating economy and lack of family planning in the country. Child beggars are found in shopping and transportation centers throughout the country either individually or alongside their parents. Child beggars are also coordinated by gangs who compel them to solicit money or sell flowers. (Source: “Child Labor in Burma,” The Plight of Women and Children in Burma, WCRP, Issue No. 4/2005, December 2005).
The poor state of the economy has also led more women and girls to turn to sex work as a means of securing an income. In 2004, the U.S. Department of State reported a noticeable presence of sex workers “who appeared to be in their early teens and for whom there was reportedly a high demand” (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2004, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 28 February 2005). The demand is thought to be fueled by increasing concerns of HIV/AIDS infections and the misconception that the younger sex workers are less likely to be infected. In January 2005, a business person from Moulmein, Mon State estimated that 30 percent of sex workers in the area were below the age of 18 (source: “Young Girls Exploited for Sex,” Kaowao News, 24 January 2005). There are reports of 10th standard students from Mon State and college students in Kachin State entering the sex industry due to a lack of other means of maintaining their livelihoods (source: “Poor Attitudes on Condom Use Put Burmese at Risk,” Kaowao News, 10 December 2005; “Tarnished Metal: The Human Cost of Mining for Riches in Kachin State,” Irrawaddy, 14 October 2005).
Children and Forced Labor
Although Burma passed Order 1/99 in 2000 banning forced labor practices, incidents continued to emerge in 2005, including those of children employed in forced labor projects. Children often participate in forced labor projects in place of their parents who may be unable to afford to lose a day of work. This is particularly true during harvest periods. In other cases, a request for laborers may not provide enough time to call adults back from their farms or there simply may not be enough people in the village to fulfill the requested number of laborers. Small children may accompany their mothers who are forced to serve as laborers or porters.
Children are subject to conscription for forced labor projects including portering, road construction, military camp maintenance, and construction projects. According to KHRG, children as young as eight have been forced to porter loads for long distances over extended periods of time. Children are also forced to serve as human shields or human mine sweepers by being forced to walk in front of troops. As porters, children are exposed to the same harsh treatment as adult porters, including beatings, lack of food, and exposure to the elements. (Source: Enduring Hunger and Repression: Food Scarcity, Internal Displacement, and the Continued Use of Forced Labor in Toungoo District, KHRG, September 2004). Furthermore, while performing forced labor, they are typically unable to attend school.
Forced Labor Involving Children – Partial List of Incidents for 2005
On 15 July 2005, Battalion Comdr. Sgt. Tin Soe of SPDC IB 305 based in Matupi 10 forced primary school children to carry rations and supplies. Commencing in Sabawngte army camp, different groups of villagers had been responsible for transporting the rations from one village to the next with the ultimate destination of Laienpi army camp. As adult villagers were unavailable to carry the rations in Mala village, the 10 students along with 5 civil servants were conscripted instead. The students carried the rations 12 miles before 2 became too tired to go any further and encountered 5 Laienpi villagers who took their places. The children were forced to carry the following:
1. 10 tins of rice;
2. 10 bottles of cooking oil;
3. 10 viss of fish paste; and
4. 5 viss of dried chilly. (Source: “SPDC Forced Primary School Children to Porter,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, 8 August 2005).
On 2 August 2005, SPDC LIB 304 Sgt. Thein Win, based in Matupi and commander of Sabawngte army outpost, commanded ordered 18 villagers including 5 girls below the age of 15 to carry army supplies. Again on 12 August, Sgt Thein Win commanded 10 villagers, including 3 teenage girls, to carry items from Sabawngte army camp to Sabawngpi village. Each porter was required to carry approximately 15 viss of goods. (Source: “Five Teenage Girls among Eighteen Porters Forced to Carry Army Supplies,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, 9 October 2005).
Starting in the beginning of 2005, residents of Tiddim, including students, were required to work on the junta’s tea plantation once a month as per the orders of Tiddim TPDC Chairman U Sai Maung. Each Tiddim government administrative department was designated 1 acre of the plantation for which they were required to gather twigs, plant tea, roof plantation beds and weed. Those failing to attend were fined 500 kyat per absence. The township authorities ordered teachers working at schools in Tiddim to instruct students to bring 1 viss of manure to the TPDC office each month. While the troops from SPDC LIB 268 were officially supposed to work as well, they forced civilians to do their work instead. (Source: “SPDC Forced School Children and Civilians to Labor at Government’s Tea Plantation,” Rhododendron News, CHRO, 25 July 2005).
From October 2005 through to 8 December 2005, each household of Hsangoung and Ziyadan villages in the Putao region were forced to provide one laborer each week to construct a road leading to Phonkanrazi Mountain, one of the highest in Burma, to improve access for tourists. Villagers were responsible for organizing their own accommodations and food. A tourist in the area observed approximately 500 villagers, including children and the elderly, cutting trees, clearing bushes and hauling large rocks. (Source: “Forced Labor Reported in Scheme to Open Up Ski Area,” Irrawaddy, 8 December 2005).
From 17 December 2004 to the time of this report, 14 January 2005, Aung Tin Win commander of SPDC LIB 439 Column 1 forced 29 villagers, including a 13-year-old boy, from Klay Soe Kee to clear the road from Kaw They Der (Yee Tho Gyi) to Naw Soe. One boy, Saw Tha Po Dee, age 15, stepped on a landmine and lost his lower leg and foot. (Source: FBR 2005).
On 15 February 2005, SPDC troops forced villagers, including women and children, from Mae Tin Tai, Taunggyi, Peh Taw Day, Sha Zee Bo, Ye Shan, Zee Pyu Gon, and Taw Gon villages, to construct a new army camp at Yae Way, Tantabin Township. (Source: KIC, 2005).
On 14 March 2005, SPDC IB 48 forced 6 villagers, including a 14-year-old girl, from Kaw Thay Der to each carry 16 kg of rations to Naw Soe military camp for 1 day without payment or food. (Source: “Toungoo District: Civilians Displaced by Dams, Roads and Military Control,” KHRG, 19 August 2005).
On 16 March 2005, an SPDC Battalion ordered 6 girls, ages 14 to 21, and women from Klay Soe Khee village to carry military supplies to Ga Mu Der (Ga Moo Doe) and The Aye Ta (Kyi Chaun) military base camp. (Source: BI, 2005).
On 28 December 2005, it was reported that middle and high school students in Dawtamagyu village tract were forced to “dig trenches and carry logs” for the locally based SPDC military unit. (Source: “Burmese Army Subjects Karenni Students to Forced Labor,” DVB, 28 December 2005).
On 19 May 2005, it was reported that Thayetchaung Township, Tavoy District authorities were ordering one person per house to work in SPDC LIB 403, 404 and 405’s sunflower fields. Children were not exempt and at least 7 children were known to have worked in accordance with the order. Persons who failed to comply with the orders were subject to fines of 500 kyat. (Source: “Burmese Children Still Subjected to Forced Labor,” DVB, 19 May 2005).
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6.6 Child Soldiers
“…the Council reaffirms its strong condemnation of the recruitment and use of child soldiers by parties to armed conflict in violation of international obligations applicable to them and of all other violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict. It urges all parties to armed conflict to halt immediately such intolerable practices.” (Source: “Security Council Reiterates Strong Condemnation of Use of Child Soldiers, Begins Consideration of Secretary-General’s Plan of Action,” Special Representative Olara Otunnu, SC/8319, Security Council 5219th Meeting, 23 February 2005).
As a signatory to the CRC, Burma is obligated to “ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.” Moreover, Burma is obligated to “refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces.” (Source: Article 38, Paragraph 2 and 3, CRC). In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that raised the minimum age for participation in armed conflict to 18, and prohibited all forced recruitment of children below the age of 18. Although Burma has not yet signed the optional protocol, the Myanmar Defense Services Act of 1974 and War Office Council Instruction 13/73 declare that “a person cannot be enlisted into the armed forced unless he has attained the age of 18 (source: “Statement by Professor Dr May May Yi,” Thirty-Sixth Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 26 May 2004).
Despite both international and national law prohibiting the use of child soldiers, it is well-documented that the SPDC perpetrates forced military recruitment, training, and deployment of children as young as 11 years old. According to Human Rights Watch, child soldiers account for 20 percent, or 70,000, of the 350,000 soldiers in the SPDC armed forces, which are referred to by the SPDC as the Tatmadaw. At least 19 armed-opposition groups have also been documented to have child soldiers among their ranks. Moreover, of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world, 25 percent are deployed in Burma, more than any other country in the world. (Source: World Report 2005, HRW, 13 January 2005).
Despite continued documentation of the recruitment of child soldiers, the SPDC denies such practices. During the fourth meeting of the Committee on the Prevention of the Recruitment of Minors in Armed Forces, committee chairman Lt. Gen. Thein Sein rejected allegations of the use of child soldiers by the SPDC. He argued that the accusations were brought by actors who wished to discredit the regime through UN mechanisms. He further claimed that “the Tatmadaw is an armed force that has been formed systematically and in accordance with military laws, bylaws, rules, orders and directives. It is an institution that has fine traditions.” (Source: “Burmese Official Rejects ‘Unjust Accusations’ on Recruitment of Child Soldiers,” Myanmar TV (MRTV), 3 February 2005).
On 5 January 2004, the SPDC created the Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment of Child Soldiers. The Committee is chaired by SPDC Secretary 2 Lt Gen Then Sein and includes “the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Labour, and Social Welfare and the Home Minister, the Judge Advocate-General and two high-ranking military officials from the Ministry of Defence.” In October 2004, the Committee adopted a Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of that Committee. The concerns revealed in the plan included: “strengthened control of the recruitment process to ensure that no one under 18 years of age enters the armed forces; the discharge from military service and return to their parents or guardians of those found to be under 18 while training or in service; the provision of vocational training or other educational options and livelihood support, in particular for orphans, vulnerable children and those without guardians; an improved birth registration system; and the dissemination of information to recruitment centers and the general public on the prohibition of recruitment of persons under 18 years.” (Source: “Situation of Human Rights in Burma,” Sixty-first session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, UN Economic and Social Council, 2 December 2004). In addition, the SPDC reportedly arranged the visit of the Resident Coordinator and the UNICEF representative to the two main recruitment centers (source: “Security Council Reiterates Strong Condemnation of Use of Child Soldiers, Begins Consideration of Secretary General’s Plan of Action,” 5219th Meeting of the UN Security Council, 23 February 2005).
In 2005, the UN Security Council acknowledged the formation of the SPDC’s committee and its Plan of Action, however, the SPDC was called upon to implement that Plan of Action (source: “Security Council Reiterates Strong Condemnation of Use of Child Soldiers, Begins Consideration of Secretary General’s Plan of Action,” 5219th meeting of the UN Security Council, 23 February 2005). In addition, in his report to the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, commented that “while there has been discussion on the need to further develop and operationalize the national plan of action to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers, cooperation on the issue has yet to be seen.“ (Source: “Interim Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,” Sixtieth session of the UN General Assembly, Item 73 (c) of the provisional agenda, 12 August 2005).
In his report to the UN Security Council in February 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan identified Burma as one of 11 countries where children are recruited into the armed forces. Moreover, both the Tatmadaw and the KNLA were identified as two of 54 armed groups around the world that have children within their ranks. His report further suggested the implementation of a mechanism to monitor the situation of children in armed conflict, particularly child soldiers, with the ultimate aim of eliminating their deployment. Sanctions such as travel bans, arms embargos and financial and military restrictions were recommended against actors found to be guilty of recruiting children into armed forces. (Source: “UN Accuses Burma of Still Recruiting Child Soldiers,” Irrawaddy, 10 February 2005). (For more information see Section 6.8 Children in Armed Conflict).
Child Soldiers in SPDC Forces ("Tatmadaw")
“…the evidence is overwhelming that the junta exploits children as young as 11 years old in pursuit of greater coercive military power” - US Senator Mitch McConnell (R) Kentucky (source: “Child's View of Burma's Civil War,” Christian Science Monitor, 22 June 2005).
Since 1988, Burma has doubled the size of its armed forces with children serving as easily intimidated recruits. The law in Burma stipulates that recruiters are subject to imprisonment for up to seven years for recruiting children. In practice, the law is routinely ignored and recruiters receive incentives in the form of cash and bags of rice for every new recruit, regardless of age. One former child soldier who was recruited in 2003 at age 13 reported that the sergeant who enlisted him received 3,000 kyat and 1 pack of rice for doing so (source: Yoma3, 2005). There is no evidence of any recruiters actually being sanctioned or punished for recruiting children.
Throughout 2005 reports continued to emerge of forcible recruitment of children from all over Burma. Children are frequently arrested while others are deceived by recruiters with promises of access to education and a secure life. Children are frequently kidnapped on the way home from school, in teashops, bus stations, train stations, markets, festivals or other public places. (Source: “The Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons Burmese Deserters Describe Lives of Child Soldiers,” RFA, 21 January 2004). Orphans and street children are one of the most vulnerable groups. In rural areas and ethnic minority areas, children are often recruited when a village does not have enough adults to fulfill a conscription order.
Incentives are also proffered to promote voluntary enlistment. In August 2005, it was reported that, in an attempt to stimulate enrollment, recruitment centers in Sittwe, Arakan State were offering 10,000 kyat and two 50 kg bags of rice to new recruits. Concurrently, basic requirements for enrollment, such as having completed primary education, being over 18 years of age and over 5 ft 2in tall, have often gone unchecked. (Source: “Perks to Join the Burmese Army,” Narinjara News, 17 August 2005). Children are often recruited through threats of prison time for a fabricated or negligible offense. Several former child soldiers reported being arrested for not having their national identity card. Others reported that recruiters destroyed their ID cards and accused the child of not having one. One 15-year-old former child soldier who deserted to KNPP area in 2005 reported that SPDC soldiers came to his village in the Irrawaddy delta area and forced him to choose between a two-year jail term and service in the army (source: “Burma Chemical Weapons Confessions: From the Battlefield of One of the ‘Six Outposts of Tyranny,” Gateway Pundit, 5 May 2005).
Once recruited, children are usually sent to one of two main recruitment centers outside of Rangoon and Mandalay. Other recruitment centers are located in Mingaladon, Pyin Oo Lwin and Toungoo. According to reports of former soldiers who were trained in the last four years, 35 to 45 percent of new recruits at the two largest recruitment centers near Mandalay and Rangoon were under the age of 18. Moreover, an estimated 15 to 20 percent were under the age of 15. (Source: Child Soldiers Global Report 2004: Myanmar, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 17 November 2004). Child soldiers are not allowed to have any contact with their family. In some instances, former child soldiers reported that their names were changed by military authorities to prevent their families from finding them. In addition, many former child soldiers reported being forced to sign documents indicating that they are 18 years of age. (Source: “The Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons, Burmese Deserters Describe Lives of Child Solders,” RFA, 21 January 2004).
During training, child recruits are beaten, receive insufficient or poor quality food, and often have their money taken by higher-ranking officers. Children who are caught attempting to escape are severely punished often by beatings or detention. In 2005, a former child soldier reported that child soldiers who were caught attempting to flee from the Danyingone Military Training Center were punished through a variety of methods of torture including beatings, being forced to carry sandbags in the sun or while running on their knees (source: Yoma3, 2005). Two other boys who defected from SPDC forces reported that they were threatened with physical mutilation and death if they tried to abscond. Specifically, they were told that “they would be cut up, put on bamboo sticks across a fire, roasted and eaten‘ with salt’”. (Source: “Burma Chemical Weapon Confessions: From the Battlefield of One of the ‘Six Outposts of Tyranny,’” Gateway Pundit, 5 May 2005).
When children are deployed as soldiers in the Tatmadaw and assigned to duty with various military units, they are treated as adults while forced to engage in armed conflict and to perpetrate human rights abuses against ethnic minority civilians. After being abducted when SPDC forces attacked and burnt their village, four Karen boys were chained, forced to serve as human minesweepers and finally trained to fight alongside SPDC forces. The four boys were then required to serve in the Tatmadaw forces perpetrating regular raids on Karen villages. (Source: “Child’s View of Burma’s Civil War,” Christian Science Monitor, 22 June 2005).
Like adult soldiers, child soldiers are not provided with adequate food, money or supplies. They are subject to harsh conditions, frequently sent to the frontlines, and treated badly by commanding officers. Many child soldiers attempt to desert the army but have few choices of where to go. If they return to their homes or remain in Burma, they fear arrest, punishment and being forcibly re-recruited. Others fear approaching ethnic opposition groups, like the KNU, believing that they will be turned away or punished due to their participation with SPDC forces fighting against the ethnic opposition groups. Despite this, many child soldiers have been able to desert and find protection with groups such as the KNU or the KNPP. In addition, many have fled across the border to Thailand in search of refuge or to work as migrant laborers.
Child Soldiers in Ethnic Armed Resistance Groups
According to Human Rights Watch, approximately 7,000 children were included in the ranks of the various ethnic armed resistance groups in 2004. As the size and strength of the armed opposition groups has waned over the years, the number of child soldiers has also decreased. Ethnic minority children often join armed resistance groups as a result of the ongoing-armed conflict within their regions. Ethnic minority children are often motivated to enlist as a direct result of the human rights abuses they, their families, or communities have suffered at the hands of the Tatmadaw. Children who have lost their families and homes join for a sense of protection and community or in search of revenge. Conversely, many of the ethnic resistance armies train children to be the new generation for the revolutionary forces and future leaders. While progress has been made, many of these armed groups lack political will or resources to actually demobilize child soldiers from their ranks. Even if soldiers are demobilized, they have little opportunity to obtain an education and may have no other existing “family.”
According to a former soldier, approximately half of all recruits to the DKBA are under the age of 18. The UWSA is estimated to have approximately 2,000 children among its ranks. Both the DKBA and UWSA have signed ceasefires and are supported by the SPDC. Despite its claims of having no child soldiers within its ranks, the KIA, reportedly conscripts children to provide labor for infrastructure and military projects. The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the NMSP, is also reported to have child soldiers serving in its forces. In 2002, the Karenni Army reported that approximately 1,200 soldiers were within its forces, 20 percent of whom have been estimated to be below the age of 18. In addition, the KNLA, the armed wing of the KNU, has approximately 500 child soldiers serving. According to the KNU, these children willingly enlisted to participate in combat. In March 2004, KNU Gen.-Sec. Padoh Mahn Sha reported that KNU policy is to recruit no one under the age of 18. Despite this policy, many displaced children remain in the ranks but reportedly have been assigned to administrative duties. (Source: Child Soldiers Global Report 2004: Myanmar, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 17 November 2004).
Conscription of Child Soldiers – Partial List of Incidents 2005
On 7 February 2005, soldiers led by Lt. Maung Cho from SPDC IB 97 Ama villagers in Pyapon Township, including 5 children, were conscripted into military service. Villagers who attempted to thwart the recruitment process faced a possible 5-year jail term. (Source: “Burmese Army Recruit Child Soldiers,” DVB, 21 April 2005).
On 29 January 2005, Lt. Corp. Myo Min of SPDC Supply Unit 525 based in Moulmein, Mon State, abducted Min Min Htaik (age 15) and another unidentified child in Zigon Township with offers of clothing, food, a good salary and shelter. The two boys were sent to the military recruitment center at Danyingon, Rangoon. (Source: “Opposition Radio Reports “Forceful Recruitment” of Youths by Burmese Soldiers,” Xinhua, 2 March 2005).
In January 2005, parents of 5 high school students who were forcibly recruited into the armed forces were drafting letters to the ILO and ICRC to appeal for assistance with their children’s cases. The 5 boys were abducted following a meeting about recruitment in their village in Mingaladon Township conducted by soldiers from the Danyin-kone soldier recruiting corps led by Lt. Aung Myint. Their parents were threatened with arrest when they tried to complain to the authorities. The 5 boys were sent to No. 6 Bassein Township Military Training School. Three of the 5 boys were:
1. Win Zaw Oo, age 17, 10th standard, son of U Win Naing,
2. Min Zaw, age 16, 10th standard, son of U Tun Myat,
3. Ye Win Naing, age 17, 10th standard, son of U Kan Nyunt and Daw Hla Myint. (Source: “Burma Army Snatched Children from Parents,” DVB, 27 January 2005).
On 25 September 2005, Lt. Col. Thet Aung from LIB 561 “adopted” Mehm Chai (age 15) from Kywetalin village, Yebyu Township by lying to Mehm Chai’s grandfather as well as the village chairman and secretary that he would provide the boy with an education and for his living expenses. Mehm Chai’s parents were away working in Thailand. Afraid to refuse, they consented and were required to pay 10,000 kyat for the boy’s costs. Mehm Chai was then sent to the Military Training School in Kaleing Aung Sub-town. Eventually, local intelligence officer U Win Myint informed the village headman of Mehm Chai’s actual whereabouts, although, nothing could be done to retrieve him. (Source: “Forced Recruitment of A Child Soldier,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, October 2005).
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6.7 Child Trafficking
“States Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.” - Article 11, Paragraph 1, CRC
“States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.” - Article 35, CRC
Throughout 2005, children in Burma, primarily from ethnic minority areas, continued to fall into the hands of human traffickers. While the Penal Code prohibits kidnapping and the Suppression of Prostitution Act and the Child Law include provisions against the sale, abuse or exploitation of children, these laws are not effectively enforced. Moreover, since 2001, Burma has been ranked as a Tier 3 country, the lowest of the U.S. government’s standards, for failing to fulfill the minimum requirements of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act. (Source: Trafficking in Persons Report - 2005, U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 3 June 2005).
Children in Burma often fall prey to traffickers as a direct result of the deteriorating economy. As many children are forced to seek an income in order to contribute to their family’s survival, they become easy targets for traffickers who offer false promises of good salaries and jobs. Children are also sold to traffickers by friends or family members. For example, it was reported that destitute or drug addicted parents sold their children to traffickers along the China-Burma border (sources: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003; “Child-Beggars: Victims of Human Traffickers,” NMG, 15 November 2005). Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State identified the regime sanctioned use of civilian forced labor and forced recruitment of child soldiers as significant factors behind Burma’s trafficking problem. (Source: Trafficking in Persons Report - 2005, U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 3 June 2005).
Children trafficked within the country are often transferred from rural to urban areas or to areas where sex work is prevalent such as trucking routes, military bases and mining areas. Recruiters reportedly travel around rural areas, particularly in northern Burma, to procure children as domestic laborers in urban areas (source: Samuel Grumiau, Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship, ICFTU, August 2003). Children trafficked across international borders most frequently end up in Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Korea, Macau, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand where they are often forced into domestic servitude, sex work, factory labor or begging (source: Trafficking in Persons Report - 2005, U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 3 June 2005). According to the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT), girls as young as 14 have been trafficked to China where they are sold as wives or into the sex industry or simply disappear (source: “Trafficking of Kachin Women Exposed,” Irrawaddy, 17 May 2005). In November 2005, it was reported that an increasing number of child beggars along the China-Burma border were abducted and sold by human traffickers for 30,000 yuan each to work in the drug trafficking trade (source: “Child-Beggars: Victims of Human Traffickers,” NMG, 15 November 2005). In addition, seven infants fell victim to trafficking after being sold through an infant trafficking ring. The traffickers were apprehended in February in China. (Source: “China Busts Trafficking Ring That Sold 70 Infants, with Seven from Myanmar,” AFP, 3 February 2005).
In response to international criticism of trafficking violations in Burma, the SPDC has instituted several widely publicized measures against trafficking. In 1998 the regime established a National Plan of Action for Trafficking Women and Children as well as a National Task Force. In July 2002, a Working Committee for Prevention against Trafficking in persons was established. Burma also became a signatory to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and two of its protocols, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children on 30 March 2004. As a signatory to this Convention and its Protocol, the SPDC is obligated to adopt and enforce appropriate legislation against trafficking in persons and de-criminalize victims of trafficking (source: Guide to the New UN Trafficking Protocol, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, 2001). In addition, in September 2004 and March 2005, the SPDC participated in the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT) (source: “Mekong Nations Gather in Hanoi to Boost Anti-Human Trafficking,” Vietnam News Briefs, 30 March 2005).
Furthermore, the SPDC has claimed that from 2002 and 2004, 939 human traffickers were arrested, 474 cases relating to trafficking for sexual exploitation were prosecuted and the trafficking of 2,629 persons was averted (source: “Myanmar Steps Up Anti-Human Trafficking Activities in Border Areas,” Xinhua, 5 April 2005). On 14 September 2005, state run media sources announced the enactment of the law, which imposes punishments ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment for those found guilty of trafficking women and children. Those found guilty of trafficking men may be subject to 5 to 10 years imprisonment. (Source: “Burma Passes Anti-human Trafficking Law with Questionable Details,” DVB, 14 September 2005). However, the effects of this new law have yet to be seen.
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6.8 Children in Armed Conflict
“States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.” - Article 38, Paragraph 1, CRC
“In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.” - Article 38, Paragraph 4, CRC
“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.” - Article 39, CRC
The CRC specifically refers to the protection of children in armed conflict and provides that every child has the right to life, survival and development; that no child under 15 should take part in hostilities; that children should not be separated from their parents except for their own well-being and protection; that states should protect children from harm and neglect; and that children of minority and indigenous populations should freely enjoy their own culture, religion and language, as well as all other rights enshrined in the convention, without discrimination. However, as the military regime has continued to lead military offensives against ethnic opposition groups in an attempt to suppress all forms of resistance, children in Burma endure the negative consequences of an environment of armed conflict.
Children living in conflict areas in Burma are routinely deprived of most of the rights prescribed in the Convention. Children have been killed by members of the armed forces, and are regularly victims of torture and landmines. Girls under the age of 18, and sometimes boys, are routinely raped by SPDC troops operating in their communities. Children are not exempt from forced labor, particularly clearing roads and forced portering, and are often forced to act as human minesweepers and human shields. In “free fire” zones, known as “Black Areas,” troops regularly shoot at villagers and into homes, regardless of whether there are children present. Furthermore, children of IDPs are forced “to live on the run” and are particularly vulnerable to such violence.
Even when a child is not a direct target of violence, children living in areas of armed conflict are subjected to numerous hardships resulting from an environment of conflict. Family, community and cultural life in these areas is continually disrupted by violence and insecurity. Children witness human rights violations directed against their own family, neighbors and community members. The emotional and psychological toll that this will take over a lifetime is incalculable. These children are essentially denied the right to grow up in an environment that nurtures and promotes their development.
In an effort to defend the human rights of children in armed conflict, the United Nations Security Council created a new monitoring and reporting mechanism in July 2005. The new system “requires both governments and armed groups to use time-bound plans of action to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers.” The new system will monitor not only child soldier violations but also “grave violations against children, including the killing or maiming of children; recruitment or use of abduction of children; and denial of humanitarian access.” The UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunni, indicated that this is the first mechanism of its kind as it creates a “formal, structured and detailed compliance regime.” (Sources: “UN Votes to Protect Children in Armed Conflict,” Irrawaddy, 27 June 2005; “Official Statement on the Security Council Resolution on Children in Armed Conflict,” UNICEF, 25 July 2005).
Violence against Children – Partial List of Incidents for 2005
On 22 May 2005, SPDC Lt. Maung Maung Htay led an operation to shell Malah Long village injuring 3 members of a single family, including 11-year-old Saw Poh, his father Saw Sar and mother Naw Me Me. (Source: “IDPs Face Food Shortages as Farming Yields Fail in Western Karen State, Burma,” FBR, 10 October 2005).
In November 2005, troops from SPDC IB 75 captured 7 villagers, including a 1-year-old baby and a 15-year-old girl, during an operation when the troops burned down 32 houses and laid landmines in Hee Daw Kaw village. The operation resulted in the displacement of 900 people from 4 villages. (Source: “300 Villagers Still in Hiding,” FBR, 6 December 2005).
On 15 November 2005, one column of troops from SPDC LIB 421, led by Maj. Zaw Zaw Lin opened fire on villagers working in their paddy fields near Kutaru village, west of Mawchi. As a result, 3 villagers were killed including 6-year-old Nae Lay Htoo. In addition, 15-year-old Lay Lay Wah was seriously wounded. (Source: “Burma Army Troops Kill a Six Year Old Child,” KIC, 15 November 2005).
On 1 September 2005 at 4:00 pm, DKBA troops led by Than Htun opened fire on Ler Ka Law villager Kyaw Win's house, seriously wounding Kyaw Win's wife, Naw Mu Ngar (age 38), his daughter Naw Ko Thar (age 12), his son Maung Mya Win (age 6) and Kwee Lay villager Naw Mya Aye (female, age 46). (Source: KIC, 2005).
On 3 July 2005, soldiers from SPDC LIB 246 led by Sgt. Aung Kyaw Moe, shot and Waling (age 16) who was herding cattle along with another boy, Sai Awng (age 12) in Laikam, Kunhing Township. The troops then charged Sai Awng with being a spy and ordered him to bring them meat to eat. Sai Awng fled to his village and reported the incident. The villagers however were too frightened to lodge a complaint. (Source: “Junta Troops Shoot A Villager to Death,” SHAN, 28 September 2005).
Mong Pan Township
On 5 February 2005, a 42 person patrol from SPDC IB 287 led by Maj. Kyi Myint deployed 60 mm mortars and 40 mm grenade launchers on a hill west of Wan Mai Khao Larm village, Mong Pan Township, resulting in the death of Mae Htao Yuo (female, age 75), and injuries to a 70-year-old woman and an 8-year-old girl. (Source: FBR, 1 June 2005).
Murng Kerng Township
On 24 January 2005, Zi Na (age 30) and his son, Zaai Mu (age 4) were beaten and killed by a patrol of about 30 soldiers from SPDC LIB 514 led by Comdr. Khin Maung Htoo in Ham Ngaai village tract. The father and son were found 2 days later when Naang Khawng, the wife and mother, gathered relatives and set out to search for them. A few weeks later, a sergeant from SPDC LIB 514 was seen driving Zi Na's motorbike in Murng-Kerng town. (Source: “A Displaced Villager and His Child Son Killed and Robbed Of Their Motorcycle in Murng-Kerng,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2005).
On 4 April 2005, Saw Po Reh (age 16) of Pah Wah Mee Laung Gwin village stepped on a landmine planted by SPDC troops, killing him instantaneously. (Source: KIC, 2005).
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6.9 Sexual Assault against Children
“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” - Article 19, Paragraph 1, CRC
“States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:
(a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
(b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;”- Article 34, CRC
The perpetration of sexual violence against women and girls by members of the military and other junta-sanctioned actors has been well documented by a range of human rights organizations. Throughout 2005, reports of sexual violence continued to emerge in conjunction with the military regime’s efforts to eliminate all opposition activities and establish control over all parts of Burma. Since the release of the Shan Women’s Action Network’s (SWAN) groundbreaking report, License to Rape, in May 2002, documenting the rapes of 625 women and girls, corroborating evidence from different parts of the county has continued to emerge. Most recently, the WCRP released Catwalks to the Barracks, a report that presents 37 incidents of sexual violence against 50 women and girls in Mon State, 11 of whom were between the ages of 14 and 17. The cases of rape occurred between 1995 and 2004 in areas both under full SPDC control as well as in areas where armed resistance groups were active. (Source: Catwalk to the Barracks, WCRP, July 2005).
Despite continually mounting evidence, the SPDC has repeatedly denied the occurrence of rape by soldiers and personnel under its command. Moreover, the authorities have made efforts to prevent information from being revealed about the pervasive human rights abuses perpetrated in ethnic minority areas by intimidating and coercing villagers into remaining silent through threats of violence or by offering monetary incentives. For example, in July 2005, military authorities attempted to cover up a case of molestation of a 4-year-old girl by a soldier by providing her family with 20,000 kyat and instructing both her parents and doctor not to disclose information about the incident. Military authorities also persuaded the local Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation against pursuing legal action. (Source: “Child Rapist To Go Free Or Else, Says Army,” SHAN, 26 July 2005). Despite widespread documentation of rape and sexual assault against children, a majority of the incidents are unreported and undocumented.
Sexual Assault Against Children – Partial List of Incidents for 2005
On 2 June 2005, 4 soldiers from SPDC LIB 536 stationed at Taung Bro village raped a 14-year-old girl at gunpoint just outside of the village. The soldiers left the girl unconscious. She was later found by her father and other villagers. On 5 June, the soldiers were arrested and 2 confessed to perpetrating the rape. (Source: “Four Army Personnel Arrested for Gang Rape of Teenage Girl in Arakan,” Narinjara News, 6 June 2005).
On 18 August 2005, VPDC Chairman Magul Ahmed raped a 16-year-old girl from Bodopara of Alay Than Kyaw village tract. At about 10:00 pm, the chairman’s bodyguard, Rahim Ullah, severely assaulted the victim’s mother and then dragged the daughter away with him to Magul Ahmed. He then took the girl to a hut and raped her. After an hour, Magul Ahmed released the girl out of fear for the villagers. The mother and her daughter filed a complaint with the NaSaKa and Magul Ahmed and Rahim Ullah were subsequently arrested. (Source: “Teenaged Girl Raped in Northern Arakan,” Kaladan News, 1 September 2005).
On 20 May 2005, soldiers from the Joint Operation No. 31 and SPDC IB 61 gang-raped a 17-year-old girl as she was performing forced labor on the Ye-Tavoy motor road. She lost consciousness during the ordeal and is uncertain as to how many soldiers raped her. When the soldiers returned her to the road construction site, she was very weak and unable to stand. Fellow villagers brought her back to her village. She was reported to be too traumatized to speak about the incident. (Source: “Terror Continues in Ye Township,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, August 2005).
In the first week of June 2005, Sgt. Myin Maung from SPDC LIB 587 raped a 13-year-old schoolgirl from Khaw Za sub-town. The officer along with 2 other soldiers encountered the girl as she was collecting firewood. They ordered her to undress while threatening her with their guns. While 2 soldiers stood guard, Sgt. Myint Maung repeatedly raped the girl until she lost consciousness. Following the incident, the victim’s parents, teacher and village headman reported the incident to commander of SPDC LIB 587, Capt. Tun Tun Nyunt. Sgt. Myint Maung was subsequently detained and was facing a 7-year prison sentence. (Source: “Terror Continues in Ye Township,” The Mon Forum, HURFOM, August 2005).
On 7 June 2005, Pvt. Yan Naing of SPDC LIB 587 raped a 14-year-old girl from Hamgam village when she was staying in a hut on her family’s farm near Chan Gu village. By the initiative of the victim’s teacher, the incident was reported to the senior commanders of the township office. Pvt. Yan Naing received a 7-year prison sentence. (Source: “Soldier Gets 7 Years for Rape,” Kaowao News, 10 July 2005).
On 14 June 2005, soldiers from SPDC Battalion 61 gang raped a 17-year-old girl from Kwan Tamoi Taotak village while she was performing sentry duty on the motor road. (Source: “Girl Gang-Raped by Burmese Army Soldiers,” Kaowao News, 17 June 2005).
On 29 April 2005, radio operator Corp. Zaw Min (age 28) of SPDC LIB 524 raped and killed Hnin Indra Oo (age 6), daughter of Sgt. Min Zaw Oo of the same battalion, after luring her with offers of buying sweets. The victim’s body was later discovered beneath a bridge outside the command post. (Source: “Army Girl Raped by Army Man,” SHAN, 6 May 2005).
Mong Pan Township
On 5 March 2005, a soldier from SPDC IB 99 raped a 13-year-old girl while she was assisting with a novice ordination ceremony in Ho Mong village. When she went to urinate in the bushes nearby, the soldier dragged her into the bushes and offered her 1,000 kyat in an attempt to stop her from screaming. The ceremony attendees finally heard the girl’s screams, came and scared the soldier way. (Source: FBR Relief Team Report, Shan FBR team, June 2005).
On 26 June 2005, commander of SPDC LIB 329 Lt. Col. Toe Myat raped Ah Sha, a 14-year-old girl, in front of her parents in the area of Jani and Ah Pawday villages. The soldiers warned villagers that they would be subject to further abuses if they did not provide information about opposition activity in the area. (Source: “Still No Signs of Outlawing License to Rape,” SHAN,
On 1 July 2005, troops from SPDC LIB 329 abducted a 15-year-old Hajakhai villager and raped her while her parents and the village headman were forced to stand outside the room where she was being raped. The perpetrator was reported to be the battalion commander. (Source: “Still No Signs of Outlawing License to Rape,” SHAN,
On 16 April 2005, 3 SPDC soldiers attempted to rape an 11-year-old girl and severely assaulted her 62-year-old grandmother in Pa Saa village. The soldiers took the girl, beat her up and attempted to rape her. When her grandmother protested, the soldiers turned on her instead and beat her until she lost consciousness. They then returned to the girl and were about to rape her when a group of village men approached hearing the screams of the women. They chased the soldiers away and reported the incident to the authorities. The men confessed to the incident after being identified by the victims. The girl was left with both external and internal injuries. (Source: “Attempted Rape and Severe Beating and Torture in Murng-Nai,” SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2005).
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Date of Interview: 6 January 2005
Residence: Rangoon Division
Q. Where did you study and what is your education level?
A. I studied high school in S--- Township and I left the school when I was in 8th standard.
Q. When did you join at the military?
A. I joined the military when I was studying in 8th standard in 2003.
Q. Why did you join the army and how did you arrive to the military troop?
A. I joined the army because my family had problems maintaining our livelihood. I also wanted to become a general as I expected that my family would be able to live comfortably. At that time, my neighbor friend asked me to join the army with him. He wanted to join the army because he was afraid of being arrested after he stole property from other people. He came and told me, “Do you want to join the army. The living conditions in the military are very good.” At first, I refused his offer but he came and talked with me about it frequently. “You will have comfortable living conditions and will be well-fed if you live with the military troops,” he added. After that, I agreed to join the army with him.
Q. Where did you go with your friend?
A. I followed him to see his sergeant, Aung Htoo. The sergeant asked me if I wanted to join the army. “Yes! I do,” I replied. I had to stay there for three days. I was fed very well during those three days and the sergeant gave me 1000 kyat before he left. Later, I found out that the sergeant got the 3000 kyat and 1 pack of rice for bringing me to the military.
Q. Where did you go after that?
A. After I had stayed there for three days, I was taken to Da-nyin-gone recruitment centre. Then I had to have a medical check up to join the army.
Q. How old you were at that time?
A. I was 15 years old. But they forced me to lie and say that my age was 18 years old when I took the blood test. After the blood test, I was taken to be interviewed by a general. The sergeant who took me to see the general had told me earlier, “You must answer, ‘Yes’ if the general who you are going to see asks you, do you want to join the army. He will punch you if you say that you do not want to join the army.”
When I arrived the general asked me, “Are you sure to join the army or did someone persuade you and bring you to join the army?”
“Yes! I do,” I replied as the sergeant told me to do.
Q. Where did you start attending military training and what did you have to do after that?
A. I started to attend the Number 1 Basic Military Training in Number 4 Company, Mingone village, Paungyi Township. I had to learn the military parade ceremony training for a whole day in the sun. Every Sunday, all the trainees had to do work such as carrying water and splitting firewood at the officers' houses. Some of the kindly wives of officers gave us curry to eat after we had finished the work.
Q. How were the food conditions at the military training?
A. We received a cup of watery tea with an egg and a little fried rice for the breakfast. For the lunch, we had watery bean and rotten fish curry. For dinner, we had vegetables and fish paste. We only had good curry such as egg curry sometimes. When we got our salary, we had to buy good food from outside if we wanted to eat it.
Q. How much did you receive as salary during the training?
A. I got 3000 kyat.
Q. Did you receive the total amount of your salary?
A. No, I got only 1000 kyat. They cut 2000 kyat from my salary.
Q. Why did you not get your total salary?
A. They said that they cut my salary by 2000 kyat to cover the cost of a box that they had provided for me. They also cut 100 kyat for the stamps on my uniform and for the costs of the Buddhist shrine and paintings in the training camp.
Q. How many child soldiers were in Danyingone military training center?
A. There were 50 child soldiers who were the same age as me.
Q. Did any of child soldiers flee from the military training and how many did you see flee from the military training?
A. 19 persons of 246 trainees fled from the military training. However, there were only 3 trainees, among those who had deserted, who were rearrested.
Q. What was the punishment for the people who were rearrested?
A. The people who were rearrested were punished with an ugly haircut style. They also had to carry sandbags on their backs and run in the sun. They were forced to run on their knees with the sandbags on their backs. They were also beaten with canes.
Q. Did you witness the trainees who attempted to flee getting beaten?
A. Yes, I witnessed a young soldier, just 14 years-old, who attempted to run away while during a break in the training. At the time, the soldiers were rushing around to put their military items back in their proper places as they were hungry and it was time to eat. The boy was chased as soon as he ran away until he was caught by the officers. He was tortured seriously after they brought him back.
Q. How did they provide for the welfare for the trainees during the training?
A. The trainees could go to the military clinic if they were sick. Only the patients who suffered from malaria and serious illnesses which were deadly were sent to Mingaladone Military Hospital.
Q. Were you beaten when you were in the training?
A. I was not beaten. Although, one time, one of the officers kicked me with his boot because I didn't wake up during role call and did not reply when they called out my personnel number.
Q. How did you feel when you were treated like that?
A. Sometimes, I felt like I wanted to run away but I did not dare to do so as I was afraid of being sent to prison. I tried to stay calm and enjoy being with my friends at the military training camp.
Q. What sort of events transpired which shocked or frightened you during the military training?
A. I was extremely shocked when I witnessed a 16-year-old trainee who suffered from epilepsy and lack of memory. He was always beaten as he could not read out the 60 habits of the military loudly. One day, he got dizzy and bubbles came out of his mouth while he was giving the signal the next person after he read the military habits. Although he went to the hospital right away, he died.
Q. How long did you have to attend the military training and where did you have to go after the training?
A. I had to attend the training for four months. I was only able to rest for one day after the training. After the training, Sgt. Kyin Si and Corp. Aung Myint from LIB 273 based in Kanpauk village, Yephyu Township, Tavoy District came and took us. There were also 9 other trainees taken with me.
Q. What did you have to do when you arrived at the Kanpauk military base?
A. I had to work doing cultivation and clearing the bush for growing crops. I had to collect firewood from the mountains for cooking, construct buildings, build duck and chicken coops and build pig pens for military families and water plants. We were beaten if we damaged the plants. Therefore, we were very tired.
Q. How was the condition of the food at the military base?
A. The food condition at the military base was quite better than at the training. We had bean curry, fried vegetables and fish curry. Sometimes we also had beef curry.
Q. How much did you get as salary for one month?
A. My monthly salary was 3000 kyat but we only got 1000 kyat per month because we were asked to save the remaining amount of 2000 kyat in the government military bank.
Q. Did you get back the money you saved in the bank when you left the troops?
A. Yes, I did. They gave me 6000 kyat when I asked to get my savings for my mother when she visited me.
Q. How many child soldiers were in LIB 273 with you?
A. I have no idea about the whole battalion because some of the soldiers were sent to the frontline and some asked for leave to visit their families when I arrived in my battalion.
Q. When did you have to go the frontline? Where did you have to go? Who was your commander?
A. I had to go to the frontline after I had been at the military base for one month. I had to go to Mi Htaw Hla Gyi and Mi Htaw Hla Lay villages in Kanpauk Township. I do not remember my column commander's name. I just remember my unit commander's name was Than Aung.
Q. What was your responsibility on the frontline and what did responsible officers demand that you do?
A. I had to carry rations, my gun and ammunition along the journey to the frontline. I also had to do sentry duty. One time, I was hit on the side of my head by my ear when I fell to sleep while serving sentry duty. The responsible officers demanded that I shoot any people who I saw walking and wearing guerrilla uniforms and handling guns such as M-16s and M-As.
Q. Were you scared of the fighting on the frontline and being in the jungle?
A. No! I was not scared. But, in my mind, I thought, “I will definitely open fire on any suspects because I am excited to experience shooting a gun.” I was not scared of ghosts even though I was on the frontline in the jungle. One of the sergeant's wives told me, the ghosts are really afraid of the soldiers’ shoes, hats, belts and guns. Another thing is there are only many kinds of birds but no tigers in the jungle. Therefore, there was nothing for me to be afraid of in the jungle!
Q. What did you have to demand from the villagers?
A. We demanded rice, salt and fish paste from the villagers.
Q. Were the villagers willing to give the food or did you have to intimidate them?
A. Some villagers are willing to give the food and some only gave it to us because they were afraid. Sometimes the villagers gave us unhealthy chickens and ducks. However, we usually collected the villagers’ crops without their permission when we crossed their farms.
Q. How did you support your parents when you were in the military?
A. I could not support my family. Instead I had debt.
Q. How did you fall in debt?
A. I fell in debt because I broke one of the corporal's watches when I borrowed it to use during my sentry duty. I miss-operated and broke it. Then the owner asked me to pay him for the cost of it. I told him that I would pay him back later. However, I have not paid him back yet.
Q. How did you desert from the military?
A. My mother and my aunt came to Kanpauk battalion to see me when I was in the frontline. I got permission to go back and see my mother. I met with my mother when I got back to the base. My mother and my aunt asked me to go back home with them. However, the battalion warrant officer threatened that, “You will be sentenced to time in prison if you run away and your parents will also lose their dignity.” I told him that I wouldn’t run away because I was afraid.
[Omitted]. In the end of July 2004, I fled to the Thai border as a novice.
Q. Are you enjoying your current living conditions or would you rather be in the military? What do you intend to do in the future?
A. Of course, everything is OK with my current living condition. I have the opportunity to study and live contentedly. However, I want to work and make the money in order to support my parents in Burma.
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