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A teenager in central Burma has been forcibly recruited into the Burmese army, according to his grandfather who says conflicting reports have been given of the boy’s current whereabouts.
A low-ranking private in the Burmese army, often referred to as the Tatmadaw, reportedly arrived in Pegu division’s Moenyo township on 13 May. Soe Min Htet worked on a farm there to support his widowed mother and three siblings, and was taken by the private on 16 May.
His grandfather, Htun Myint, told DVB that when he contacted the Light Infantry Battalion 390, which is based in Naypyidaw but where he claims the private is from, he was given two different accounts.
“On May 17, a captain said Soe Min Htet was there and told us to tell his mother not to worry. But when we contacted them again on 18 May, they said he wasn’t there. The day before, they confirmed by his name that he was there, and on the next day, they lied.”
When contacted again the following day, Htun Myint claims the captain threatened him for “defaming the army”.
The UN released a report earlier this month accusing Burma of being one of the few governments that continues to systematically recruit child soldiers. Their current numbers are not known, but a Human Rights Watch report in 2002 said there could be as many as 70,000, equating to roughly a quarter of the army population.
Burmese battalion commanders are required to fulfil a troop quota, meaning the coercion of underage youths into the army by low-ranking personnel is common, despite being illegal under both domestic and international law.
The UN report said that, “Children continue to be persuaded or duped by relatives (working in the Tatmadaw), soldiers (to earn a promotion or other incentives) and other brokers to join the Tatmadaw.”
The forcible use of children as army porters and human minesweepers has also been documented, while rights groups claim child labour remains widespread.
Soe Min Htet’s family has reportedly contacted the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Rangoon, the only international body mandated to investigate allegations of child soldier recruitment in Burma, and lodged a complaint.
National League for Democracy’s Sanchaung [Rangoon] township chairman Thet Wei who reported the case to the International Labour Organisation’s Liaison office in Rangoon.
Thet Wei, a member of the National League for Democracy who acted as an intermediary between the family and the ILO, said that child soldier recruitment is increasing.
The increase, he said, is a result of the ongoing policy of aggressively expanding Burmese troop numbers, which are now thought to number close to 500,000. “This leads soldiers to forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 and issue them fake ID cards to make them appear legal,” he said.