Myanmar still recruits child soldiers: report

Myanmar child soldiers

Myanmar is still recruiting and using child soldiers, despite embracing democratic reforms and a UN agreement to end the practice, a human rights group said.

Child Soldiers International reports levels of child recruitment have declined, and 42 children have been released from Myanmar's army since the government signed the agreement last June, but the outlawed practice continues, due to a lack of political will to implement safeguards.

Myanmar is one of about two dozen countries worldwide found by the UN to violate international law on the rights of children in armed conflicts. Ending the use of child soldiers has been among the litany of reforms sought by the US and other Western nations that have restored diplomatic ties with the Southeast Asian nation as it has begun to shift from five decades of oppressive military rule.

The government of President Thein Sein has shown willingness to reform by signing a joint action plan with the UN, but the London-based rights group says authorities have failed so far to monitor army recruitment systematically, and recruitment patterns appear unchanged from the past decade.

"Military officers and informal recruiting agents continue to use intimidation, coercion, and physical violence to obtain new recruits, including under-18s," says the report, which is based on three research missions in Myanmar and along its

border with Thailand, the latest in December.

The report says children are also in the ranks of army-controlled border guard forces and ethnic armed opposition groups that for the most part have reached

cease-fires with the government after decades of fighting for more autonomy. It criticizes the government for refusing the UN and child protection agencies access to the ethnic groups to help end child recruitment.

The army, which is still waging a major offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels in the north of the country, has a constant demand for new recruits because of high desertion rates, the report says.

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