Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Child soldiers still a fact of life in Burma: Ban

by Mizzima News
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 16:22

Chiang Mai – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says despite some progress in combating the incidence of child soldiers in Burma, there remains much work to be done, urging the military government to increase their commitment to ridding the country of child soldiers.

In a report, his second on the subject, released yesterday and dated June 1, Ban outlined what he perceives to be a "lack of interest" on the part of Burmese authorities to aggressively put an end to the practice of recruiting child soldiers.

As such, Ban urges the junta to "redress the prevailing culture of impunity, to launch investigations into all incidents of recruitment and use of children, and to prosecute people responsible for such acts under the Penal Code."

Additional recommendations to Burma's military leaders made by the Secretary General entail: further engagement with the U.N.'s country task force, ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and enhanced humanitarian access.

According to the report, those most susceptible to finding themselves serving in the ranks of Burma's Army include unaccompanied street children and loiterers in the vicinity of railway stations and pagodas – including novice monks. Orphans are said to be at particular risk from Army recruiters.

Of the specific cases brought to the Secretary General's attention, one account chronicled the recruitment of an 11-year old boy who, after serving in the Army for a handful of years, was found suffering from a myriad of diseases and afflictions, including testing positive for HIV/AIDS.

Though Ban acknowledges a degree of progress made on the part of Burma's generals in addressing the problem, he stipulates that it remains very difficult to verify the purported steps implemented by the junta unless the process involves either the International Labor Organization or International Committee of the Red Cross.

In the period covered by the study, of 40 cases filed with the International Labor Organization, 28 realized the release of the soldier in question. However, it is cautioned the reported cases are believed to only represent a fraction of the overall population of child soldiers within the ranks of Burma's armed forces.

Most cases filed with authorities, moreover, arise from the country's urban centers – Rangoon and Mandalay – as the rural population is said to still be largely uninformed as to the possible legal recourses available to them and the rights of children.

The presence of child soldiers is also said to persist in the ranks of numerous ethnic rebel outfits – both allied to the junta and fighting against the central government. Ethnic-based armies said to be or suspected of recruiting child soldiers include: Karen National Liberation Army, Shan State Army – South, Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army, Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council, Kokang Army, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and United Wa State Army.

Interestingly, Ban states that additional difficulties may arise in the near future in combating the incidence of child soldiers in Burma as the country is "undertaking some structural political changes," an apparent reference to the upcoming 2010 general election and a foreseen altered political landscape.

Child soldiers are defined as those under the age of 18.

Ban's second report on the subject of child soldiers in Burma covers a period of time from October 2007 to March 2009. The results of the study will be submitted to the United Nations Security Council.