Myanmar army has 70,000 child-soldiers

Associate Press, The Straits Times, 17 October 2002

YANGON—Myanmar's army has an estimated 70,000 soldiers under 18 years of age, the largest number of child soldiers in the world, Human Rights Watch said in a report.

Children as young as 11 years old are being forcibly snatched off the streets and recruited into the army, which has an estimated 350,000 soldiers, the New York-based group said in a report on its website. Advertisement

Myanmar's ruling junta denied the allegations: ‘The government finds it very difficult to understand on what basis it is making such claims, saying that 20 per cent of the national army is made up of underage children.’

The human rights group said the 220-page report, titled ‘My Gun was as Tall as Me’, drew on extensive interviews with current and former child soldiers, and examined recruitment by the national army and 19 different armed opposition groups.

It said recruiters for the national army apprehend boys at train and bus stations, markets and other public places, threatening them with jail if they refuse to join the army.

Ms Jo Becker, advocacy director of the group's Children's Rights Division, said that Myanmar's record on child soldiers was ‘the worst in the world’.

The army uses ‘threats, intimidation and often violence to force young boys to become soldiers'.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers last year estimated that more than 300,000 children were fighting as soldiers in 41 countries.

The London-based coalition said the children, about 120,000 of them in African armies, were used as front-line fighters, minesweepers, spies, porters and sex slaves.

International law prohibits recruiting children under the age of 15, while several United Nations conventions speak out against children under 18 serving as soldiers.