By LALIT K JHA
WASHINGTON — The Burmese military regime’s army and nine other armed groups are still recruiting child soldiers, according to the latest Annual Report of the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, released on Wednesday.
The report accuses both the Burmese junta and an array of armed ethnic groups, including ceasefire groups and active anti-government forces, of continuing to engage in the practice of recruiting child soldiers.
Apart from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the Karenni Army (KA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), all of the armed ethnic groups singled out in the report have signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese regime.
The ceasefire groups implicated in the report include the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen National Union-Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU/KNLA PC), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
The non-ceasefire KNLA and KA are the only groups that have sought to conclude an action plan with the UN to end recruitment of child soldiers, according to the report. But the report, authored by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, adds that the UN has been prevented from establishing a formal dialogue with these groups by the Burmese military junta.
The 51-page report, which documents recruitment of child soldiers around the globe, further alleges that the Burmese military junta has denied humanitarian access to children during the reporting period.
The report also refers to a meeting between UNICEF officials and Wa authorities in early 2008, during which the UN officials visited two military camps where the UWSA was managing and running four primary schools. “This is worrisome, given the allegations of their recruitment and use of child soldiers,” the report said.
The Wa denied that the students were given military training and explained that the children were dressed in military uniforms because they were orphans, street children or children from poor families who could not afford other clothing. No further assessment was carried out and there has been no further contact with the Wa authorities, the report said.
Reports from camps along the Thai-Burmese border found one case of a child recruited by the KNU and three cases of children associated with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the political wing of the KA, the UN report said. A monitoring and reporting mechanism has been established in all nine refugee camps along the border in order to improve the verification of cases and raise awareness of the issue of child soldiers among camp residents, it said.
Referring to official reports shared by the junta, the UN report said the Burmese government continues to screen and release underage children found in its armed forces during the training process. The junta reported that 68 children were detected in various military training schools and were released to their parents and guardians.
The 68 cases included 12 children who were released through the International Labor Organization (ILO) mechanism, one released and reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and two released and reported to the ILO and ICRC.
The ILO, through its mechanism to eliminate the use of forced labor, has verified the release of 23 children, mostly from involuntary military enrolment, based on complaints filed by parents and relatives. An additional 14 cases either await government response or remain open while the process continues, it said.
While the Burmese regime claimed that it has discharged nine military recruitment officers from service for violating the national military recruitment law, the UN reported that it has not been able to verify that.
However, on underage recruitment cases received by ILO, no action against perpetrators has been taken under either the Penal Code or military regulations, the report said.
The report also said that even as the regime has informed the UN country task force that it has put procedures in place for the rehabilitation and reintegration of underage recruits, the UNICEF has not been given access to children who were released through the government’s mechanisms for follow-up purposes.
The UN report said the world body has also not been able to establish contact with any of the armed ceasefire groups identified in the 2007 annual report as perpetrators of child recruitment. These include the DKBA, the KNU/KNLA PC, the KIA, the KNPLF and the MNDAA. It also has no contact with the non-ceasefire SSA-S.