By Wa Lone | Monday, 14 March 2016
The Tatmadaw has freed 46 child soldiers, the latest trickle of underage recruits to be released from the armed forces. State media showed pictures of the released recruits reuniting with family members on March 12.
The Tamadaw said it has taken action against nearly 400 soldiers involved in recruiting child soldiers since February last year, according to a state media report.
“The Tatmadaw is committed to ridding its ranks of underage soldiers,” Major General Tauk Tun of the Commander-in-Chief’s (Army) Office was quotes as saying in the military-backed Myawady.
The report also said that 72 military officers and 309 soldiers have been punished according to military laws, though exactly what kind of extra-judiciary discipline was taken was not specified.
General Tauk Tun refused to answer any questions from The Myanmar Times.
In June 2012, the Tatmadaw signed an agreement with the UN to end and prevent further child recruitment.
According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, the Tatamadaw has freed744 child soldiers in 12 batches since 2012.
However, according to several NGOs, the Tatmadaw and armed ethnic groupscontinue to forcibly conscript minors.
U Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, said that while he welcomes more children being freed from the Tatmadaw, he is certain that many more underage soldiers are losing their childhoods to the military.
“The use of child soldiers can be considered a war crime in international court,” he said.
The problem of children being recruited is especially prevalent in current conflict areas, he said, including in northern Shan State where the Tatmadaw and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army are engaged in ongoing clashes.
“The government forces and ethnic armed groups should both avoid using child soldiers in the conflict, even if these young people enter willingly,” he said.
According to a report by London-based Child Soldiers International, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the Kachin Independence Army, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army, the Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army, the Shan State Army-South, and the United Wa State Army have all been guilty of forcibly pressing minors into fighting or serving as porters.
The secretary of the KNU Pado Saw Kwel Htoo Win denied using child soldiers.
“Our KNU policy very carefully protects women and children, so we don’t accept any soldiers who are not yet 18 years old,” he said.
He added however that the KNU will be meeting with the UN Child’s Fund in May to work on promoting children’s rights and education in Kayin State.