It is essential that grassroots advocacy groups network extensively with other groups operating in South East Asia and Internationally in order to increase global awareness of the issues of child soldiers in Burma. They should then cooperate with similar human rights groups including, but not limited to, other missions to end the use of child soldiers in places such as Africa. Everyone will then be able to learn from each others experiences, gain strength through numbers, and with increased awareness will force the international community (and silent neighbors like China) to take more forceful actions to make Burma end this inhumane practice. In addition, it cannot be ignored, that other problems Burma faces, such as lack of democracy and the drug trade, are directly linked to the abuses of Burmese children, and eradicating them will help end child soldiering.
“Bambo People” is a novel about two boys 15 year old boys, one a refugee and one a child soldier, that takes place in modern Burma. Through the book the reader begins to understand the societal, political, and cultural challenges facing Burma in their quest to end the human rights abuse of using child soldiers. By creating more awareness, novels like this promote more active participation in advocacy for Burma which will pressure the international community to demand change in Burma.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) currently runs the Burmese state despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s calls for democracy. Much of the SPDC’s inner working are shrouded in secret but is believed to be made up of approximately 11 Buddhist generals. The lead figure in the SPDC and the junta, since 1992, is chairman Than Shwe, followed by his deputy, Maung Aye, and finally his joint chief of staff Thura Shwe Mann. Part of the reason the inner workings of the SPDC have been shrouded in secret is because officials stay out of the public eye. These leaders need to be put in the public spotlight and be held accountable for allowing the use of child soldiers in the Tatmadaw, the state military.
Members of Burma's military junta
A couple weeks ago a Thailand based advocacy group released a report titled, “Child Soldiers, Burma’s Sons of Sorrow.” This recent report details how the Burmese government has done relatively little to curb child recruitment into the military. Most battalions are estimated to have at least 70 -80 children serving in them. Much of this is due to the increasing desertion from the Burmese military and the need to refill the ranks. Despite the denial by Burma, several personal stories have surfaced. For example, “Fourteen-year-old Maung Phoe Zaw says that he accepted a lift while returning home from shopping in July 2004, not knowing that the car driver was an army sergeant. He was taken to a camp instead of his house, and after a bit of training was sent to an operations area in a region not far from Thailand. He finally fled in 2008. Kyaw Naing Soe says that in November 2003 he was picked up with a group of friends at a railway station and held at a camp for seven days during which time they were threatened with imprisonment if they didn’t enlist. He was then 13. Other narratives recount how children were kidnapped or offered money to join.” This clearly indicates the need to take more active measures to end this abuse.
Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP) is a local Burmese advocacy group founded by U Myint Aye. Its purpose is to promote awareness of universal human rights and the rights of the abused in Burma. In addition they assist the abused and promote the tolerance, respect, and rights of others. Child soldiers, whose human rights are being abused, have constantly come under the mandate of the HRDP.
“Last year the ILO received 83 complaints of child soldier recruitment, Marshall said, while 46 children had been officially discharged by the army. The total number of complaints received by the organization since it began its complaints mechanism in February 2007 stands at more than 120” The new plan hopes to increase cooperation and communication between the ILO and the Burmese junta, in the hopes to take a more proactive approach to decreasing these abductions. Up to this point, the ILO has been more reactive to developments in Burma.
According to the U.S. Campaign for Burma, “As of mid-2006, generals in Burma have required a quota of 7,000 new recruits each month in efforts to build up the military, now around 400,000.” The lack of volunteers has led to the forcible conscription/recruitment of children. “Sometimes children join under economic and social pressure and other times they are coerced into service. A tactic becoming much more frequent is enlistment under threat of jail or torture.” If children escape they are commonly beaten, and then re-enlisted or jailed. “According to a Human Rights Watch report titled, “My Gun Was As Tall As Me”, non-state opposition armies also employ the use of child soldiers. These armies include the United Wa State Army, the Karen National Liberation Army, Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, Karenni Army, Shan State Army-South, People’s Democratic Front, All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front and Mong Tai Army. The report estimated that about 2,000 of the 20,000 troops of United Wa State Army may be children, making it by far the single largest use of child soldiers among the non-state armed groups.”