Report: Brokers Supply Child Soldiers to Burma

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Burma's military government has been forcibly recruiting child soldiers through brokers who buy and sell boys to help the army deal with personnel shortages, which have been exacerbated by desertions and public aversion to its brutality, Human Rights Watch concludes in a detailed report being released today.

Private militias and ethnic insurgent groups in Burma have also been using child soldiers, though in far smaller numbers, according to the New York-based group's 135-page study, based on an investigation in Burma, China and Thailand.

"The brutality of Burma's military government goes beyond its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocate for Human Rights Watch. "Military recruiters are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the Burmese armed forces."

Military recruiters and civilian brokers have been collecting cash and other forms of compensation for each new soldier, ignoring questions of health and age, the study found. Army expansion and unprecedented desertion rates have driven the process, it said.

Recruiters target children at train and bus stations, markets and other public places and threaten to arrest them if they don't join, Human Rights Watch said. Senior generals and recruiters in Burma, which the military junta calls Myanmar, condone and engage in this traffic, it said.

The group predicted more recruitment of children as fewer older volunteers step forward following the recent crackdown on monks and civilian demonstrators.

Becker described a high-level committee created by the junta to address the child recruitment issue as a "sham." It largely devoted its efforts to denouncing reports on the issue, she said. Last month, state-run media announced that the government was working to reveal that charges of recruitment of young boys were "totally untrue."

A call last evening to the Burmese Chancery here was not returned.

Human Rights Watch quoted Auung Zaw describing his initiation to combat as a soldier.

"I can't remember how old I was the first time in fighting. About 13. That time we walked into a Kareni ambush and four of our soldiers died," he told the group, referring to rebels of the Karen ethnic group. He became frightened and tried to run away, but his captain threatened to shoot him if he did, he said.

Another boy told Human Rights Watch that he was only 11 when he was forcibly recruited despite his height, 4-foot-3, and weight, 70 pounds. Enlistment records are often falsified to claim children are 18 or older, the report said.

"They filled the forms and asked my age, and when I said I was 16, I was slapped and he said, 'You are 18. Answer 18,' " another Burmese, Maung Zaw Oo, told Human Rights Watch, recounting a 2005 incident. "He asked me again and I said, 'But that's my true age.' The sergeant asked, 'Then why did you enlist in the army?' I said, 'Against my will. I was captured.' He said, 'Okay, keep your mouth shut then,' and he filled the form." Requests to go home or make a phone call were refused, according to his testimony.

While he was U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan identified Burma's national armed forces in four consecutive reports to the Security Council as having violated international standards prohibiting the use of child soldiers. In the coming weeks, the Security Council's working group on children and armed conflict will take up the issue concerning Burma.

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