Govt wins praise for child soldier commitment

The United Nations has welcomed the latest move by Myanmar to eliminate the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the armed forces, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement last week.

The reaction came after Myanmar signed the optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 29.

The protocol aims to strengthen the protection of children from recruitment into armed forces, the statement said, adding that its provisions include making 18 the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces.

“We congratulate the Government for its commitment to enhance the protection of children in Myanmar,” said Renata Lok-Dessallien, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.

“The signature of the protocol reinforces the Government’s expression of commitment that Myanmar armed forces will be child-free,” said Ms Lok-Dessallien.

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The signature was also a positive sign of the cooperation between the UN and the government since a joint action plan was signed in 2012 to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict, the UNICEF statement said.

The protocol requires Myanmar to take all possible measures against the recruitment and use of children in conflict, including adopting laws to prohibit and criminalise such practices, whether committed by military personnel or civilians.

Bernard Bainvel, UNICEF’s representative in Myanmar, said it was important that a new Child Law under discussion be closely aligned with the protocol.

This could be achieved by including a provision prohibiting the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, strong penalties for breaching the law and accountability mechanisms, Mr Bainvel was quoted as saying in the statement.

Since the joint action plan was signed in 2012, a total of 646 child soldier recruits have been released by the Tatmadaw.

“Despite the progress made so far, the UN calls on the government to accelerate essential remaining steps, particularly by reinforcing the age assessment procedures,” the UNICEF statement said.

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