Burma on Wednesday signed an agreement with the United Nations pledging to prevent the use of child soldiers and allow access to military units to check for underage recruits, the UN said Wednesday.
The action plan, inked by senior military officials and UN representatives in the capital Naypyidaw, is the result of years of negotiation with the government, the UN office in Rangoon said in a statement.
“We will be able to work closely with the Ministry of Defence and visit various military units to identify under-age children if any, have them registered and released and provide assistance for their reintegration with their families,” said Ramesh Shrestha, the country representative for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“The signing also means serious commitments from the government to ensure that there will be no more recruitment of under age children in the military,” he told AFP, adding that he expected an improvement in screening for recruitment.
According to Sanda Linn, a UNICEF official in Rangoon, the plan, which would be monitored by UN subordinate organisations and Rangoon based NGOs, would allow inspectors to monitor military units for underage recruits.
The agreement will be in effect for next 18 months.
There are believed to be thousands of under-18s in Burma’s state army and ethnic armed groups, although the exact figure is unknown.
“One of the problems is the lack of birth certificate among many young people,” said Shrestha. “Sometimes papers presented by the new recruits are not authentic.”
A recent report by the UN accused the military as well as six armed ethnic rebel groups of being “persistent perpetrators” of the recruitment and use of children, including the Kachin Independence Army in the far north of the country. Save the Children country director Kelland Stevenson said that children were often tricked by recruiters.
“We know that children do not willingly join the military,” he said in a statement. “They are often duped into migrating away from their homes with promises of good jobs and then recruited into the armed forces. These are usually some of the most vulnerable children who live in impoverished areas and need our protection.”
However, some observers were less optimistic about the deal.
“No matter how much they do, we are still very cautious of trusting them. When we file complaints through [groups] such as the ILO or the UNICEF, although the complaint would reach to senior government officials within a week time, it’d take around six month to actually solve the case,” said Aye Myint of the Guiding Star human rights advocacy group that provides assistance to child soldiers.
The agreement is part of efforts by Burma’s reformist government to shed its international pariah image following the end of decades of military rule last year. In March, the country signed a pact with the International Labour Organisation to end forced labour by 2015.