By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Another 55 child soldiers have been formally discharged from the Tatmadaw this week, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.
Friday’s discharge, which included a further 13 adults recruited as children, brings to 800 the total number of children released from military service since 2012.
The exact number of child soldiers still in military ranks is unknown, and UNICEF has urged the government to reinforce legal sanctions against child recruitment.
“We call on the government to accelerate essential remaining steps, particularly by clearly banning use and recruitment of children in the soon to be adopted national Child Law, further reinforcing age assessment procedures within the military recruitment process, and including the prevention of violations against children in the military curriculum,” Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF’s Myanmar representative said on Friday.
This week’s discharge marked the first release of child soldiers from military service since the new National League for Democracy-government took office at the end of March.
46 child soldiers were released in mid-March at a Yangon ceremony in the final weeks of the Thein Sein administration, while a further 53 were released weeks after the November 2015 election.
Underage recruitment continues
A June 2012 pact with the UN committed the government to ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers, but a lack of civilian oversight of the military and an absence of legal accountability for unlawful recruiters have impeded progress.
A March report by London-based Child Soldiers International said the Tatmadaw’s use of incentive-based recruitment quotas, combined with pressure from above to increase troop numbers, led recruiting officers to ignore restrictions on the enlistment of underage soldiers and falsify documentation for identity and age checks.
“Despite welcome measures to spread greater awareness about the unlawfulness of underage recruitment… children continue to be among those forcibly recruited, and remain easier to trick and more susceptible to pressure to enlist than adults,” the report added.
The UN taskforce charged with monitoring child soldiers relayed 210 reports of suspected underage recruitment to the Tatmadaw in 2015, while 146 child soldiers were released over the same period.
Of the reports, 11 were verified as cases of underage recruitment in 2015 and 22 were dismissed, a UNICEF spokesperson told Frontier. The remaining cases related to instances of child recruitment in the years prior to 2015, including some soldiers already released from service, or were still under review.
So far, none of the 122 underage recruitment reports from the beginning of 2016 to the present had been substantiated by the taskforce, according to UNICEF.
The UN has also identified seven non-state armed groups as “persistent perpetrators” in the recruitment of child soldiers, including the Kachin Independence Army, United Wa State Army, Shan State Army-South, Karenni Army and three Karen factions.
The UN says it has begun discussions with some of these groups to end recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.