6. Rights of the Child
6. 1 Situation of Children in Burma
Burma became a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on August 15, 1991. The CRC affirms that every child has the right to protection, the right to life, and the right to survival and development. The CRC also specifically refers to the protection of children in armed conflict and mandates that no child under 15 should take part in hostilities; that children should not be separated from their parents except for their own well-being; that States should protect children from harm and neglect; and that all children should be entitled to the rights enshrined in the convention, without discrimination. The SPDC, (then SLORC) promulgated a new Child Law on July 14, 1993 in order to "implement the rights of the child recognized in the Convention." The child law states that "the State recognized that every child has the right to survival, development, protection and care, and to achieve active participation in the community." (Chapter 5, paragraph 8) The regime’s decision to accede to the CRC was widely interpreted as a positive sign and temporarily improved its image throughout the international community. However, widespread evidence of continuing violations against children has shown that while national laws to protect children may be in place, the SPDC has taken little action to enforce these laws.
The SPDC published it’s second periodic report to the CRC committee in 2002, which outlined what actions had been undertaken to implement the provisions of the CRC. This report, already overdue by two years, concluded by stating that, ‘Myanmar today is striving its utmost to create best opportunities for the children.’ (Source: Paragraph 253. Myanmar’s 2nd periodic report to the CRC, 11, June 2002). According to the regime, children are the ‘jewels’ of Burma, and are cared for and respected by every member of society. The SPDC noted that children in Burma are very well protected, physically and psychologically (see paragraph 83). The large body of information collected in 2002 by NGOs, opposition groups, and other national governments dispels these claims, and provides clear evidence that children in Burma cannot depend on the government to protect or advocate for their rights. Instead, the SPDC is at best, negligent, and at worst complicit, in abuses such as the recruitment of child soldiers, the trafficking of children, and the destruction and dislocation of ethnic minority families and communities.
Burma has seen almost constant conflict since independence from Britain in 1948. Internal civil war and poor governance has brought about widespread poverty, poor health care, low educational standards and systematic human rights abuses. Children, who are among the most vulnerable members of society, have been disproportionately affected by all these factors. Decreasing levels of government spending on education have caused standards of primary education to deteriorate, with corresponding rises in illiteracy and drop out rates. At present, it is estimated that less than 50% of all school-aged children in Burma attend school. Paradoxically, government military spending has grown to consume over 40% of the national budget. According to the US Department of State, the SPDC’s spending education is less than 1% of the GDP and spending on health is less than .3% of the GDP (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US State Department). The World Health Organization’s 2000 report rated Burma’s healthcare system 190th overall, out of 191 countries surveyed. The regime’s failure to invest in children has had direct and visible consequences. According to UNICEF, out of the 1.3 million children born every year in Burma, more than 92,500 will die before they are one year old. Another 138,000 children will die before they reach the age of five.
Children in Burma are also increasingly vulnerable to exploitation for dangerous labor. Approximately one quarter of children between the ages of 10-14 are engaged in paid work and there are a growing number of street children in concentrated urban areas. (Source: ICRC, 2002) In particular, street children, runaways and orphans are particularly vulnerable to forced recruitment into the armed forces. The SPDC is believed to be one of the world’s largest single users of child soldiers with more than 70,000 children serving in the national army alone. In addition, some armed opposition forces also recruit children, but in smaller numbers (source: Human Rights Watch, 2002). Burmese children are also victimized when forced into the sex industry, and the trafficking of children has become increasingly prevalent throughout the country, and especially in border areas.
Ethnic minority children are often more vulnerable to abuse due to the fact that civil war is often drawn along ethnic lines and fought in ethnic minority areas. In addition to contending with the discrepancy between access to social services available to the military and civilian populations, ethnic minorities face the more direct consequences of internal conflict. Throughout 2002 children living in ethnic minority areas, like other members of their communities, continued to be subjected to physical injury, torture, rape, murder, forced labor, and forced relocation. Children in these areas were also forced to witness atrocities carried out against their family and community members; to endure separation from their families and communities; and to suffer from extremely limited access to health care, education, housing, and food.
6. 2 Status of Education of Children in Burma
‘All children have an equal right to education’. (Source: Article 28 UN CRC)
In Burma, children are denied access to quality education due to ongoing conflict, declining resources, minimal professional support and deteriorating learning conditions. Throughout the country there are less then 1,600 high schools and most schools at all levels are overcrowded and lack basic amenities, such as furniture. There are clear differences in standards of education between State and military schools, and to a lesser degree between urban and rural schools. Schools run by the military for children of the ruling elite have more funding and thus better facilities and educational programs. In contrast, schools in ethnic minority areas have the least government support. Students in these areas suffer further discrimination in education as the state mandated syllabus ignores their own culture and language and forces them to learn in Burmese
If Burma is to uphold the standards set out in the CRC, the SPDC must focus on increasing accessibility to basic education for all children. The most recent statistic available in 2002 cited the SPDC’s expenditures on all civilian education as equivalent to less than 1% of the GDP. In addition, government spending on education has declined by more than 70 percent in real terms since 1990 (source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US State Department). Despite a compulsory education law coupled with a policy of free primary education, one quarter of those who start school will fail or drop out during their first or second years. According to UNICEF, 75% of children who reach the age of five years will enroll in primary level education. Less than half of this group will graduate to middle school and only one in four teenagers will enroll in high school. Overall, this means that 50% of all school-aged children in Burma do not attend school (source: "Situation of Children and Women in Myanmar." UNICEF, http://www.unicef. org/myanmar/pages/a4.html, January 2002). According to Of the 750,000 children that drop out of primary school each year, 630,000 are students in rural areas. Government figures show that 84% of the annual dropouts from primary school are in rural areas, with the lowest enrollment for the primary level age group in eastern Shan, Karen, and Arakan States (source: Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Myanmar, UNICEF, August 1999).
A large percentage of students drop out of school because they are unable to pay increasing school tuition fees. While laws exist which stipulate that free primary education should be available to all children, in reality students and their parents are usually forced to pay a large variety of ‘fees’ to cover the shortfall in state spending on education. In rural areas students and parents are often also forced to pay for teachers’ food and lodgings. Various studies by UNICEF, UNDP, and other NGOs have identified parents’ inability to pay school costs and the need for children to work to provide the family with income, as major reasons for children dropping out or not attending school. Predictably, drop out rates have increased as the economy continues to deteriorate.
Children may also drop out of school by choice due to poor performance and dissatisfaction with school. The education system in Burma is not student-centered, and discourages creativity, discussion and critical thinking. Instead students are taught basic curriculum through rote learning and memorization. In their 2002 report on education in Burma, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) notes that the state curriculum ‘encourages military might and ethnic prejudice, instead of inspiring students towards a peaceful and multiethnic nation.’ (source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-All Burma Federation of Student Unions. May 2003).
Throughout Burma, girls are often less likely than boys to receive an education, and less than one third of all female students who begin primary school manage to graduate. (Source: CEDAW, 2002) The high drop out rate of female students stems from traditional beliefs about gender roles as well as early marriage and pregnancy of girl students. Most girls and young women are expected to manage both educational and domestic responsibilities, which often results in poor scholastic performance and leads them to drop out of the educational system. In some areas, parents refuse to allow their daughters to attend school if they have to travel through SPDC-controlled areas, as they fear that they will be vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment by soldiers. Where families have only enough funds to educate one child, they usually choose a son over a daughter. One woman stated: "In a poor family, if the parents can only afford to send one child to school, they never choose a daughter. They say, "Girls are for others…If a girl can read and write a letter, that is enough." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002) (For more information on the situation of education for women and girls see chapter on Women).
Those children who are able to attend school rarely receive a quality education. The State requirements for passing classes have been lowered with the introduction of a new exam system, which has lessened the need to study. Cheat sheets are widely available and bribes, corruption and favoritism are linked to passing with high marks. Teachers are paid very low salaries, far below subsistence wages. The headmaster at a standard government high school earns 12,000 kyat per month, and teachers earn usually 4,500 kyat a month. As a result, many educators have been forced to quit teaching out of economic necessity. Other teachers tutor privately to supplement their wages and this is often where the real teaching and learning takes place. Teachers purposely leave out essential parts of the curriculum from their classes forcing students to take extra tuition classes in order to pass examinations. Those children who cannot afford to pay for extra classes often fail examinations or drop out. One teacher, Wyne Win, notes that ‘Teachers have taken to leaving out key parts of curricula, only to teach them later in private tutorials that cost anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 kyat per month.’(Source: Agence France-Presse, 24 November 2002)
Schools also suffer from a lack of educational resources and facilities. Textbooks, equipment and school supplies are outdated and in short supply. The government claims to give out free text books, but students report that in most cases they and their parents have to pay for all learning materials themselves. While some schools do have new teaching materials donated to them by aid agencies, one student reports that students were not allowed access to these new materials. "When I was studying at high school in Mandalay, UNICEF gave us school books, really nice textbooks, but we were never allowed to use them. They kept them locked up in a glass case and we were only allowed to touch them when the district education department officials visited. Then they would take them out. But as soon as they left the books would go back into the case again.." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
Education in Ethnic Minority and/or Conflict Areas
Children in the various ethnic states face the greatest barriers to accessing education. In addition to dropping out of school for financial reasons, thousands of children are forced to interrupt their education due to ongoing conflict and human rights abuses carried out by SPDC troops in their communities. These abuses include, forced labor, mass forced relocation and the burning of fields and villages. In order to improve their international image, the regime has begun ordering relocated villagers to rebuild schools in relocation sites. This places a heavy burden on people who have already lost most sources of livelihood, as the villagers are usually forced to provide most of the building materials and labor themselves. For example, in April 2002, the SPDC ordered villagers in the east of Tavoy Township, Tenasserim Division to build a ‘modern’ primary school, entirely out of wood. The Coastal Military Command promised to pay for tin roofs and cement, but the villagers had to pay for construction fees and other materials. This proved a heavy burden for the villagers who were already forced to pay numerous extortion fees to the authorities and go regularly for forced labor. (Source: KIC)
Even when schools exist in ethnic minority areas, many children cannot afford to pay the fees. In addition, government teachers sent from central Burma sometimes leave because they do not want to live in such a remote area. One parent living in Chin state noted that: "although there are schools in the area, many can’t afford to send their children to school because it’s expensive. In our village, 80 percent of school-age children can’t attend the school. We have to pay for the books, various taxes, and school tuition fees. Most teachers don’t want to teach in the border areas, so the villagers themselves have to pay 20,000 kyats per month for a teacher and the enrollment fees then have to rise up. Therefore, most parents can’t afford the cost and instead send their children to farming and work places." (Source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-All Burma Federation of Student Unions. May 2003)
Throughout the country, female students are usually less likely to receive an education than male students. However, in some ethnic states, there are reports that girl students are more likely to receive an education than boys. In conflict areas, many teenage boys leave school early to join armed opposition groups. One Karen girl notes: "I studied at Wangkha till 10th standard. In primary school, there were the same number of boys and girls, but in high school there were more girls and fewer boys, because during our school days, there were battles between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the SLORC so often. So when the boys completed 6th or 7th standard, they joined the army because they wanted to help fight. The girls couldn’t go to the frontline, so we continued to study." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
This is true sometimes even in areas where opposition groups have signed ceasefire agreements. One girl from Kachin state where the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a ceasefire in 1993, revealed the girl boy ratio. "In 5th standard, there are 26 girls and 16 boys. In 6th standard, there are 12 girls and 10 boys. There are more girls than boys because all the boys join the Kachin army." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
In ethnic conflict areas, the government forces children to attend state run schools, which have banned teaching in local languages. While the CRC mandates that children not be subjected to discrimination in education based on ethnic origin, the regime continues to maintain an education system that is clearly orientated towards Burman history and culture. At the same time, the state curriculum ignores and delegitimizes the history and culture of other ethnic groups (source: Education Report 2002, Foreign Affairs Committee-All Burma Federation of Student Unions. May 2003). For example, in Arakan State, students are forbidden to study Rakhine literature. As a result, many ethnic minority children find that the education system has little relevance to their daily lives or futures, and choose not to start school or to continue their studies.
In June 2002, Kaladan Press reported that government teachers were refusing to take postings in some remote locations in Arakan State. Other teachers who were posted in these areas simply did not show up. One NGO reported that Buddhist teachers also refused to be posted to Rohingya Muslim communities. This was especially problematic as since 1978, the SPDC has banned Rohingyas from working as teachers. (Source: Kaladan Press Network)
In Mon state, where there is a cease fire, large numbers of SPDC authorities have moved into the area, actively curtailing opportunities for Mon cultural education. New restrictions have cancelled celebrations for Mon National Day, stopped the building of Mon national schools and halted the Mon National education program. In addition, the SPDC has ended the dry season Mon literacy education courses. (Source: HURFOM)
According to the Karen Teachers Working Group, schools in Karen State are often burned by the SPDC, who consider such schools to be ‘signs’ of KNU presence in the community. School materials are then destroyed and stolen. Increasingly, the SPDC authorities are targeting teachers as ‘KNU supporters’ and thus educators are at increased risk of SPDC brutality. In Karen State, the school year is often disrupted as villagers are forced to flee SPDC military offensives. While some schools are reopened in the jungles, most children living as IDPs do not have access to education. In addition, the SPDC destroys the rice fields and livestock of Karen villagers, making it impossible for the community to provide for their teachers. Most local teachers have little or no formal training themselves nor do they have educational texts to rely on for support. While these teachers do their best to provide their students with a good education, they usually lack experience, skills and teaching materials. (Source: Karen Teachers Working Group)
One student in Karen state describes her education: "I went to school but from kindergarten to 2nd standard-we didn’t have full time study. We studied for three or four months and then we had to stop. We had always to be wary when we were studying, because the Burmese soldiers shot at our place with heavy weapons once every month. In some months they shot their heavy weapons at our place two or three times. So we had to run away all the time, and finally we weren’t interested in studying." (Source: Gathering Strength. Education for Women and Girls. Brenda Belak, Images Asia. 2002)
Another Karen student recalls that: "I studied for four or five years, until 3rd standard. Since the Burmese troops destroyed my village, we had to try to avoid them, so we ran to the jungle and sat our exams under the bamboo together with my schoolmates and teacher. At that time, my parents arranged for food to be sent to me. Our school was damaged by the fighting, and after that I couldn’t continue studying. From that time until now, we have been persecuted." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
One female student notes that girl students in her community faced further barriers to obtaining an education. "People in my village had no chance to study because the Burmese soldiers came and burned down the village rice barns, so everyone had to flee to the jungle to hide. I went to a school in my hill village when I was young. There weren’t enough notebooks or teachers. I think it was better in the schools in town, but we couldn’t go there because there were battles going on. Most of the other parents didn’t encourage their daughters to study. They used to say, "You can eat rice whether you can read or not," so they mostly sent their sons. But my mother wanted all of us to study because she was illiterate and she thought if we got some education, we wouldn’t have to do hard labor like her." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
6.3 Status of Health of Children in Burma
‘By uplifting the health care of mothers and children, the improvement of the child’s health is evident. There is a decrease in maternal, infant and under 5 mortality and the objective laid down for children’s health status has been successfully achieved.” (Source: Paragraph 142, Myanmar’s 2nd periodic report to the CRC, 11, June 2002)
Despite claims by the SPDC that, ‘the health situation in Myanmar has improved dramatically’ (Source: New Light of Myanmar ,1 December 2002), there is great deal of information available which refutes this. According to UNICEF, child mortality figures state that 130 deaths per 1000 children occurred in 2002. This reveals only minimal improvement from the 1997 UN figures that reported a mortality rate of 131 deaths per 1000 children. The Human Development Report 2002 reported infant mortality to be 87 deaths for every 1000 live births (source: UNDP). Many more children become ill from acute respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis or malaria, which are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among children in Burma. Malaria is thought to kill approximately 30,000 people per year and it is believed that a significant percentage of these are children. More than one third of all children under 5 are malnourished, most frequently children between 1 and 3 years old. These statistics are likely to understate the severity of the health crisis faced by children in Burma, as most international organizations do not have access to the most vulnerable populations, such as IDPs.
Children are disproportionately affected by the regime’s lack of support for health care. The World Health Organization (WHO) found Burma’s health care system to be extremely poor, with government expenditures on health in 2002 equal to only 2.2% of GDP. The SPDC spends the majority of state funds on increasing the size and strength of the military, not protecting the health of future generations. In the past few years, the country has received increased international aid and funding for health care, which has improved the situation for some individuals and communities. However, these mostly small-scale projects cannot replace a largely non-functioning state health care system.
Throughout Burma, there are large disparities in access to health services and information particularly in the peripheral regions of the country and poor urban areas. The result is a health care system with insufficient facilities, too few health care workers, inadequate health education programs and lack of rural services. Most deaths of children are caused by diseases that are preventable and treatable. These deaths result from a lack of basic medicines, knowledge, inadequate care and insufficient resources. According to UNICEF, the main causes of death of children in Burma are malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.
Children living in conflict areas are usually the most vulnerable. Access to immunizations and medical treatment is usually unavailable, as government hospitals are unlikely to be built in these areas. In addition, most international aid organizations are denied access to conflict areas where the need for health care is the greatest. Ongoing armed conflict increases the vulnerability of children living in these areas, as like adults in their communities, they can be directly affected by landmines and military violence.
Children and HIV/AIDS
Only recently has the SPDC begun to acknowledge the growing threat of HIV/AIDS in Burma. UNICEF believes that the disease is reaching epidemic proportions, but that the prevalence has not yet peaked. Rapidly rising infection rates in Burma are fuelled by population mobility, poverty, sexual assault, and an extremely high rate of infection among intravenous drug users. The International Crisis Group estimates that 1 in 50 adults are infected, although Burma’s Ministry of Health officially puts the number of HIV patients at only 40,000 (Source: Irrawady, January 2002). The official HIV-positive prevalence rate for pregnant women is approaching 2%, however the real figure is likely to be much higher (Source: Financial Times, 17 May 2002). With increasing numbers of Burmese children being trafficked into the sex industry, children are increasingly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS. The demand in neighboring countries for young ‘virgin’ girls, increases the likelihood that children trafficked will be sold multiple times to customers who will have unprotected sex with them. (See section on child trafficking in this chapter.) (For more information on HIV/AIDS see Chapter on the Situation Health and Education.)
6. 4 Children in Prison and Labor Camps
Children in Prison
Children under the age of 5 can be found in prison with their mothers for 3 reasons: they have no relatives to care for them; their mothers have requested that they stay together; or they are born there. However, all children must leave at the age of 5 and if there are no relatives to care for them they are placed in social services. This frequently means military training schools for the boys and a precarious future for the girls, who often end up working in the sex industry. Both girls and boys run away from social services, adding to the number of street children in urban areas.
Female political prisoners are only allowed to keep their children with them if they are born in prison. Male prisoners are never allowed to have their children stay with them. Children live in prison under the same conditions as other prisoners, which includes inadequate health care, unsanitary conditions and lack of nutritious food. Prisoners are allocated 7-8 cups of water a day for washing which must be shared with their children. Meals consist of rice gruel in the morning and two other meals a day of boiled rice and watery soup made with a little fish paste and unwashed vegetables. This must also be shared between the mother and child.
No special provisions are made for education or recreational needs of children in prison. They have no books, toys or play area and because they have to stay with their mothers at all times, their movements are restricted and they can rarely go outdoors or out of the multiple occupancy cells. They are not given immunizations- because there is rarely medicine in the prison clinic, and the prisoners must rely on family members or other prisoners for medicine if the children get sick. T.B. is a common problem in prison and also affects children. Because their mothers are not tested for HIV, the number of children with this condition is unknown. It is likely that the numbers of children with HIV is relatively high, as a high number of women in prison have the virus. In addition, women giving birth in prison do not receive adequate pre-natal care and during birth they are only assisted by a midwife, who is a fellow prisoner. A high number of children born in prison die during childbirth due to complications.
According to one former female political prisoner, there were approximately 50 children staying in Insein prison from 1992-1995. Of these, 15 were born in prison, mostly to long-term prisoners. There are three prison labor camps in Burma that have women prisoners; Pyinmana-Yezin, HtoneBon, and Mandalay-Pathein Gyi. Mothers have to work long days and have quotas to fill; if they do not they are beaten. For this reason, some women choose to tie their children to trees so they can complete the task more quickly, and are not bothered whilst working. Many children die in the labor camps due to the heat, lack of water, no health care, and no medicine for treatable conditions such as diarrhea.
Juvenile Prison Laborers
There is also an unknown number of juveniles serving time for petty offences in prison labor camps. Conditions in prison labor camps are notoriously difficult, and there are no special provisions made for underage prisoners. Children are sentenced for different reasons, such as not registering with local authorities or fleeing the army after forced conscription. Ethnic children are particularly targeted in certain areas. The situations in the labor camp are dire, with many adults and children dying due to the extremities of the work environment. Long hours with no breaks, carrying out dangerous work, combined with inadequate food, physical abuse, high disease and non-existent health care, cause children to be in an especially vulnerable position. There are no figures available for the child deaths in labor camps.
Tawn Soon labor camp, in Mon State is one labor camp known to have juvenile inmates. One former child soldier, Tin Ko, who was arrested when he tried to flee from the army, reported hearing that many other child soldier prisoners had been transferred from Insein prison to this camp. A few months after they were transferred, Tin Ko says he received news that some had died. The official comment was that they died whilst trying to escape, but Tin Ko did not believe this. ‘I don’t believe their words because if anyone died in labor camp from heavy work, the officials always said that the prisoners were killed because they tried to escape."(Source: ABFSU)
Child Soldiers in Prison
Boys that are caught running away from the army are faced with a choice; either return to the army and face further abuse, or else serve a jail sentence, after which they are told that they will not have to rejoin the army. Many child soldiers choose the second option, believing that life away from the army can only be an improvement. However former child soldiers in prison often face further abuses at the hands of criminal prisoners. With minimal or no protection from the prison authorities, former child soldiers have reported that rape and physical abuse occur regularly.
6. 5 Child Labor
‘any adult found ….employing a permitting a child to perform work which is hazardous to the life of the child or which may cause disease to the child or which is harmful to the child’s moral character’ is find up to 1000 kyats or faces 6 months imprisonment,’ (Source: Paragraph 87 (a) CRC report 2002)
As the economic conditions continue to deteriorate in Burma, children are often needed to work alongside their parents in order to raise enough income for the family. Other children are forced to work to support themselves, after losing one or both parents. In 1992 UNICEF estimated that as many as 4 million of a total 11.8 million school age children were working in both urban and rural areas. The figures are likely to be higher now with inflation and unemployment having increased dramatically over the past ten years. (Source: UNICEF). Children are frequently seen working in teashops, and begging to supplement their family income. [See section on begging].
In addition to working to support their families, children, like adults, are often pressed into service to carry out forced labor for the military. Despite the SPDC’s pledges to stop child labor, and although orders banning forced labor have been passed issued, authorities continue to force children and adults to work without pay on military and government projects. The regime forcibly conscripts boys into the army, and also uses children as forced laborers on infrastructure development projects, income generating projects for the military, and to provide support for military operations. Forced labor includes such work as portering, road construction, sanitation and building maintenance for military camps, building construction, acting as messengers and various other chores for military personnel.
In many cases, when the military demand forced labor from families or villages, children are sent, either to free their parents to work for the family’s livelihood, or to ease the burden on the village. At particularly busy times in the harvest, men must stay and finish work in the fields in order to guarantee income for the family. At these times it is very common to see children doing forced labor in place of adults. When a village is assigned a particular task, such as building a road or a ditch, they may be given a time limit, or may wish to have it completed as quickly as possible, so as to return to their own work. Subsequently when this situation arises, children are sent out to work with their families.
In Burma exploitative and dangerous forms of child labor have been widely reported. Children as young as 7 are sometimes forced to serve as porters in combat areas, where they are made to carry heavy loads, and are frequently subjected to beatings, rape and other mistreatment. (Source: HRW, 2002) In addition, there are reports that children have been used as human minesweepers and human shields during military operations. The ILO has repeatedly condemned the use of child labor in Burma, and specifically called on the SPDC to demobilize and rehabilitate all child soldiers.
Sample Incidents of Forced Labor Involving Children-2002
On 7 December 2002, troops from LIB 506 arrested about 50 porters in the area outside of Three Pagoda Pass border town. When they arrived near Kyaw-palu village, in the southern part of the Town, they also arrested a 16 year old Mon boy named Mehm Krat Khakao. The boy was a high school student who attended a Mon national school. He stayed in a village under New Mon State Party (NMSP) control where the Burmese Army does not arrest porters. When he was arrested he explained that he was a student but the soldiers did not release him. They said that he needed to carry ammunition for them regardless of whether he was a student or a villager. They put 5 motor shells on his back and made him carry for one day. The weight of the 5 motor shells was about 40 Kilograms and very heavy for a young boy. Although he asked to take a rest, the soldiers did not allow him to do so. After the village headmen found out that the student was arrested, they petitioned the commanders to release him, which the soldiers agreed to do. (Source: HURFOM)
On 23 September 2002, Captain Myunit Lwin from LIB 50 ordered Sabawngte villagers to serve as porters from Sabawngte army camp to Dar Ling village. Upon arrival, the captain collected porters, including one 8th grade student and one 5th grade student, to transport army supplies to the next village, Tonglalung. (Source: CHRO)
From 20-29th September 2002, SPDC troops from LIB 266 forced 75 people including 6 women and 2 middle school children to serve as porters in Matupi township, Chin state. The porters were forced to carry army rations and supplies to and from Ruazua and Sabawngte army camps, a distance of 80 miles apart. (Source:CHRO)
In March 2002, SPDC authorities in Kya-inn-seikyi town ship led by township PDC General Secretary, U Aung Lin, forced local villagers to contribute labor to build a road from Kaw-bein to Paya-gyi village, which is half-mile long. They forced villagers from three main villages, Kaw-bein, Min-ywa and Paya-gyi to contribute labor finding stones, crushing them into small pieces, and then laying the stones on the embankment to make the road. The authorities instituted a rotation system for forced labor, during which time many women and children under 18 years old were involved in the construction. According to one villager, about 50% of the total workers were women and children. (Source: HURFOM)
6. 6 Child Soldiers
International law prohibits the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen into the armed forces. Such recruitment has been recognized as a war crime under the statute for the International Criminal Court. In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that raised the minimum age for participation in armed conflict to 18, and prohibited all forced recruitment of children below age 18. Burma is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but has not yet signed and ratified the optional protocol. The International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on the worst forms of child labor, adopted in 1999, recognizes the forced recruitment of children under the age of 18 for use in armed conflict as one of the worst forms of child labor.
While the SPDC continues to deny that they forcibly recruit child soldiers,(see paragraph 217, 2nd Periodic report to the CRC, 2002), the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has cited Burma as one of the world’s single largest users of child soldiers. A major report published by Human Rights Watch in 2002, My Gun Was As Tall As Me, stated that Burma is in fact the largest single user of child soldiers in the world. Currently there are estimated to be over 70,000 children serving in the SPDC army. The regime forcibly recruits children as young as 11 and UNICEF has reported on a child aged 7 years old being forcibly recruited (see end of chapter). The Burmese army has doubled in size since 1988 and a huge number of these soldiers are believed to be child recruits. HRW estimates that between 35-45 % of soldiers in the army are children, the vast majority of whom have been forcibly conscripted.
Children living in conflict zones; who have been separated from their families; are orphans; or who are living on their own on the streets; are at the greatest risk of being recruited. These children are usually from the poorest and most marginalised families and have little opportunity for education. Many have run away from their families to escape abusive homes and to try to earn money selling food or other goods on the streets. Often children are arrested for minor infractions of the law, such as not carrying an identity card, and then given the option of joining the army or going to prison. One boy recruited at the age of 14 reports: "I was at Bassein harbour with three friends. We had come to buy some goods and were going back to our village. We were stopped by three soldiers in uniform. They asked, "Do you have ID?" I said, "I have no ID because I’m still too young," I was fourteen…They took us to the recruiting office in Bassein and when we arrived there we were put in the lockup." (Source: My Gun Was As Tall As Me. Child Soldiers In Burma. Human Rights Watch 2002)
Military recruiters are increasingly targeting younger buys who are more easily manipulated than older teenagers. While the youngest children are not usually sent to the front lines, they are often used for other strenuous and dangerous tasks including portering or working as human mine sweepers. Some boys are kept by the commanders in the training bases as gardeners, or groundskeepers, tending to animals or cutting grass. Others are used as housekeepers, or personal servants.
Thousands of boys have been forced into Burma’s national army in this way. Recruiters typically pick them up at railway, bus, and ferry stations, on the street, at marketplaces and festivals or on buses. If the children resist, they are often beaten or detained until they agree to join the military. Other young boys are lured to join the military with promises of earning money and gaining prestige as a soldier. People that recruit young soldiers receive payments of between 1000-10, 000 kyat and 15-64 kg of rice. Soldiers who wish to retire are also often forced to provide three new recruits before being allowed to leave military service. (Source: Human Rights Watch)
Many children are recruited from ethnic states. Narinjara News reported that children as young as 13 and 14 were being conscripted from Arakan State. An SPDC official stated that ‘the number of Rakhine soldiers in the Burmese Army is about 30% out of the total of 350,000 Burmese forces.’ (Source: Narinjara News, 5 November 2002). In Mon State, military commanders have forced village headman to provide them with a list of all men between 13 and 30 years old, and then order them to join the army. For example, on 18 January 2002, the Commander of MOMC No. 19, Brigadier Te Win called a meeting with all the headmen from all villages in the Township and ordered them to increase the number of village militiamen in village and told them that every village chairman must become the chief commander a paramilitary force. He instructed all village headmen to provide a list of villagers between the ages between 13 and 25 years old, and said that all males in this age range must attend the military training school. (Source: HURFOM)
After being recruited children are taken to military run training camps called Ye Nyunt or "Brave Sprouts" camps. The SPDC often refers to these military camps as a ‘youth organizations’ and in their 2nd Periodic report to the CRC committee claimed that such children are ‘being nurtured at the training schools’ and upon completing training are allowed to leave and return back to their families if they want to. In reality, former child soldiers report that they suffer systematic abuse at such training camps, are denied contact with their families, and are forbidden to leave. At these camps, young boys are forced to undertake military exercises which they are often too young to carry out properly. When they make mistakes, they are usually beaten and abused by training officers. Child soldiers receive little food and minimal medical attention if they fall ill or are injured. Training officers often force recruited child soldiers to beat other recruits caught trying to escape. If a child is caught crying at night they are also beaten. Any mistakes made in training are punishable by group beatings, or other degrading and painful punishments.(Source: My Gun Was As Tall As Me. Child Soldiers In Burma. Human Rights Watch, 2002) One boy who was recruited when he was 16 says:’ Yes, I saw [other young boys crying].The trainers beat them to stop crying. These young boys asked to the trainers to give leave to see their parents. As they were not allowed, they cried and they committed suicide, shot themselves dead. I saw it once. I saw when he shot himself. I buried him." (Source: UNICEF, 2002)
Many child soldiers, once deployed, are forced into combat. In addition, child soldiers are also often ordered to carry out abuses against civilians, including looting and burning villages, and participating in torture, rape, and execution of villagers. Kyaw Aung was kidnapped by the military at 14 years old, and recently deserted. He reports that his company once tied a Karen elder suspected of being a rebel to a post, and his sergeant ordered him to gut the prisoner from neck to groin. Kyaw Aung says: "I had no choice,..If I hadn’t done it, the sergeant would have had the other soldiers tie me up and cut me open." (Source: TIME Asia, 4 February, 2002) Another soldier who was forcibly recruited at age 12, said "We threatened them [villagers] with guns to make them work. No soldier would dare be kind to the villagers because the officers would beat us if we showed them any mercy.’ He added, ‘I have nightmares about what we have done." (Source: Time Asia, 4 February, 2002)
Child soldiers who manage to flee the army have few options, and typically either join armed opposition forces or flee to neighboring countries. While the SPDC is by far the largest user of child soldiers, a number of opposition armies have also been found to recruit child soldiers on a smaller scale. Of all the non-state armies, the United Wa State army (UWSA) is the largest user of child soldiers, with an estimated 2,000 in its forces. The UWSA has been found to recruit children as young as nine, and forces every Wa household to send one male member to fight or face a fine of approximately 250 Baht. One UWSA soldier interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated: " when they’re only four years old they give the boy a rock and pretend it’s a grenade; if he can throw it up the hillside he gets food. At age eight or nine they give real military training with real guns. Once they’re over ten they’re sent to the front line." (Source: My Gun Was As Tall As Me; Child Soldiers in Burma. Human Rights Watch, 2002). Children in the UWSA are treated similarly to children in the SPDC army. They are beaten if they do not understand orders and are not allowed to write to their families. However unlike child soldiers in the SPDC, UWSA recruits report that they do get decent food, and the punishments are not as severe.
The several dozen opposition groups and independent armies operating throughout Burma probably have a combined total of approximately 6,000 to 7,000 child soldiers. Most of these armed groups do not forcibly recruit young soldiers, and a number are extremely vocal about discouraging child recruitment. The Karen National Liberation Army, Karenni Army, and Shan State Army-South do accept younger boys who express a desire to join their ranks, despite the fact that these armies’ official minimum recruitment age is eighteen. A number of younger boys seek to join the army because they have witnessed or experienced abuses by the SPDC, and/or been orphaned by military attacks. Some deserters from the Burmese army join opposition forces as they feel they have nowhere else to go.
6. 7 Child Trafficking
Widespread poverty has led to a growing number of children from Burma being trafficked into prostitution and street begging. In the face of extreme economic hardship, some parents sell their children, because they believe that the child will have a better life elsewhere, or because they are desperate for the small amount of money paid by the trafficker. Children who are orphans are also particularly vulnerable to trafficking. According to Save the Children, ethnic children living in border areas are at greatest risk of exploitation, and are most likely to be trafficked. Many of these children have been lost or abandoned when their communities were forcibly relocated or forced to flee military offensives. (Source: Annual Report 2002, Save the Children)
The Sex Industry
Children who are sold into prostitution suffer both emotional and physical trauma, in the immediate context and long term. Thailand is the primary destination of trafficking from Burma with an estimated 40,000 Burmese women and children, working in the sex industry. Although Burma’s Child Law states that "every child has the right to… protection and care" the SPDC has done little to prevent the trafficking and exploitation of women and children from Burma. Government efforts have been ineffective and limited to infrequent arrests and regulations restricting the cross border movement of young females which rarely has any effect in combating trafficking. Contributing to this problem is the tacit approval, and sometimes complicity, of Thai and Burmese officials in the trafficking of women and children.
The trafficking of women from Burma for commercial sex work in Thailand has been well documented. There is a growing demand for young girls who are virgins because of the belief that there is less chance that young girls are HIV positive. According to the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), doctors at a clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot have reported that the increased demand for virgins has led more and more families to sell their daughters into brothels for a short period of time until the "value of their virginity" has expired, at which point they return to their families. In practice, young girls are sold as virgins several times until the amount they can be sold for decreases below a certain point.
One 13-year old Karen girl who was sold into prostitution against her will reports: "At first, they didn’t put me in the prostitute house. I don’t know what they call it - is that "Par Kin-Paunt"? ("Par-Kin-Paunt" is a Burmese word that literally means "first opening" or "deflowering" and refers to virgin girls who are new to prostitution and who are free from HIV/AIDS) I don’t know. They sent me to that place. As soon as they sent me there, a man started to "Par-Kin-Paunt" me. I asked him, "what are you going to do to me?" The uncle told me, "I paid for you, I can do whatever I want." I tried to fight him, but he beat me and then used me. At this place, they sold me as "Par-Kin-Paunt" maybe three times, I don’t remember. After that, the head-person of Darling Prostitution House came and took me to work at their brothel. They didn’t allow me to go out or look out the windows. They beat me when they saw me looking out the windows. And they didn’t feed me enough food." (Source: WLB)
These young prostitutes are not adequately educated about sexually transmitted diseases and customers who pay more for a virgin girl are rarely willing to use a condom. Child prostitutes are often held against their will after being sold into prostitution and do not receive adequate food or health care and live in physically insecure situations where they fear bodily harm from both their employers and customers. If a girl is no longer profitable because of pregnancy or disease she is often turned out on the street.
A large number of children are also trafficked into organized begging rings. Street children, with little education are especially vulnerable. Most of these children are trafficked to Thailand where they receive little or no money and are subjected to cruel treatment at the hands of the adults who ‘control’ them. In most cases, child beggars are forced to earn a certain amount of money each day, reportedly between 2000-6000 baht, if they fail to collect this money then they are often beaten. Most child beggars live in dirty overcrowded conditions, with many other children. They are given little food, and often no medicine or treatment when they are ill. These children have no chance for education, and are at an increased risk for becoming drug users. In addition, girls who are beggars are often recruited into the sex industry. Many of these children are sold repeatedly from one employer to another and have no chance to contact or visit their families.
6. 8 Children in Armed Conflict
Violence Against Children
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically refers to the protection of children in armed conflict and provides that every child has the right to life, survival and development; that no child under 15 should take part in hostilities; that children should not be separated from their parents except for their own well-being; that states should protect children from harm and neglect; and that children of minority and indigenous populations should freely enjoy their own culture, religion and language, as well as all other rights enshrined in the convention, without discrimination.
Children living in conflict areas in Burma are routinely deprived of most of these rights; violence committed against children being the most blatant breach of these rights. Children are murdered by the army and security forces, and are victims of rape, torture, and landmines. Girls under the age of 18, and sometimes boys, are routinely raped by SPDC troops operating in their communities. Children doing forced labor, particularly clearing roads and forced portering, are often forced to act as human minesweepers and human shields. In free fire zones, known as "Black Areas", troops regularly shoot at villagers and shoot into homes, regardless of whether there are children present.
Even when a child is not a direct target of violence, children living in areas of armed conflict are subjected to numerous hardships that mar their entire lives. Family, community and cultural life in these areas is continually disrupted by violence and insecurity. Children witness killing and violence directed against family, neighbors and community members. The emotional and mental toll that this will take over a lifetime is impossible to calculate. These children are denied the right to grow up in an environment that nurtures and promotes their development. Burmese children need special protection both from direct harm and lost opportunities. Children have a crucial role in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction and need to be recognized as actors in their own right.
Violence against Children 2002 – Partial List of Incidents
17 Year Old Shot by SPDC Soldiers
On 9 November, at 6 am, the SPDC military column arrived close to Bay-ka-lawe village and shot one boy, Mehm Kyaw Moe, age 17, who they suspected of being a rebel soldier. This boy is from Morkanin village. Mehm Kyaw Moe was seriously injured, but was abandoned by the soldiers. After the village headmen heard about the incident, the villagers came and took Mehm Kyaw Moe back to the village. The commander of the military column then lied to villagers, stating that the boy was shot while fighting with KNLA soldiers. The commander also threatened the boy’s parents, warning them not to tell the truth to the other villagers or the local authorities about the shooting, but to say that the boy was caught in the middle of a fight. (Source: HURFOM 2002)
4 Month Old Baby Killed by Soldiers
On 30 January 2002, six Shan civilians, including a 4 month old baby, were killed near the border with Thailand. The six were originally from Loi Saan village, Ham Ngaai tract, Murngkerng township, but were relocated in the 1996-97 campaign to the outskirts of Murngkerng town. They were traveling in a group to Thailand however on the way the group encountered troops from Infantry Battalion 281. The troops shot and killed the six people, and stole all their Thai money and possessions. The local military then reportedly closed the border crossing. The six victims are: Lun Kon, (m), age 56; Sai Ohn Ta, (m), age 38; Sai Nyunt, (m), age 34; Pa Pan, (f), age 43; Nang Leng, (f), age 27; and Naing Naing, (f), age four months. It appears that this group of civilians were not killed in the context of counter-insurgency activities, as there are no SSA-South troops in the area. The motivation for the killings is not clear, nor is it known whether soldiers from Infantry Battalion 281 were acting on orders from their commanding officers. (Source: Myanmar; Lack of Security in Counter-Insurgency Areas. Amnesty International 17 July 2002)
Soldiers Kill 1 Child; Injure 2 Others
On 30 October at 3:30 pm, troops from SPDC LIB 235 entered Yu-Au-Ler-Hta in Ler Mu Plaw township and opened fire upon the villagers whilst they were harvesting and working in the paddy fields. One villager, Saw Roby Wah aged 35 was killed on the spot and 5 villagers were wounded, including children. The wounded persons were: Saw Thay Bay Wah aged 40, Saw Shee Nay Moo aged 17, Saw Tee Tu aged 17, Naw Moo Day Wah aged 8, and Naw Ler Per aged 14. The 8 year old child, Naw Moo Day Wah later died, on 9 November. (Source: CIDKP)
7 Year Old and 9 Year Old Arrested by Soldiers
During the dry season from February to June 2002, the Burmese army killed many Karen villagers, whom they suspected of having connections to the KNLA. In March 2002 HURFOM reported that soldiers arrested about 10 villagers, including one 50 year old woman and two children aged 7 and 9 years old….….. The villagers were brought from their village [no name given] to Pha-ya-nyote-to village, where the LIB No. 548 base is situated, for one week. Although the village headmen tried to get them back by bribing the commanders, no one was released. After 7 days, they heard the news that the soldiers had killed 7 of the villagers. The 50 year old woman was released and she told the other villagers about the killings. The commander had been involved in the killings of these villagers. The soldiers also released the two children before they killed the other villagers, after receiving 200, 000 Kyat ransom from the children’s relatives. (Source: HURFOM)
Family, Including 8 Children, Interrogated and Tortured
In late May 2002, when IB No. 77 arrived to Htee-pa-nae village, which is situated on the Zami riverbank, they declared that the village was a base for KNLA soldiers. The soldiers then ordered all the villagers to leave their villages within three days, and added that if they found someone after the deadline he/she would be killed. On 1 June, when the troops returned to that village, they found one family still remaining. Saw Htee Paw and Naw Nong Plae had remained in their home along with their 8 children and 2 other relatives. The soldiers arrested, interrogated and tortured the family, asking why they hadn’t left the village. According to other villagers who knew them, the family had delayed to try and collect food to take along with them.(Source: HURFOM)
Soldiers Kill 10 People, Including 6 Children
On 21 April 2002, a combined column of Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 301, LIB 416 and Infantry Battalion (IB) 78 entered the village of Tee Tha Blu. They looted houses and then proceeded to burn some of them. They beat villager Pa Haw Su brutally, cutting him in the neck with a knife. The villagers were locked in a group in the church for three days without food, except the children who were fed once a day. After three days they were taken out of the church and were forced to watch the soldiers steal the zinc roofing from the church and the meeting hall, and then burn both buildings. The column beat and interrogated four villagers, including pastor Thra Si Pa T’Rer, aged 51, and a medic, and then took them both away. One villager escaped later, but the others have not been seen since. They also beat Ghay Nay Htoo Mo, a 49 year old woman. On 27 April 2002, the troops returned and burned the remainder of the village, ordering the villagers to leave.
Most villagers had little choice but to move to the relocation sites or other SPDC-controlled villages, but some fled into hiding in the jungle or tried to escape to the Thai border. After this event, the village head of Tee Law Bler in Kya In Township had been given orders to move all of his villagers to Lay Wah Kah. Some people fled to other villages where they had relatives, while others decided to leave for Thailand. Together with some families who had fled Noh Ta Sghu and Meh K’Taw villages further north in Kya In township, one group set out towards Thailand on April 28th and spent the night in a group of rice field huts not far along the way, at K’Ray Dtay Kee. A column from IB 78 discovered them sleeping in the huts, and without investigating whom was inside, the troops unleashed a barrage of fire into the huts. Ten people were shot dead, six of them children: Saw Toh Paw (age 56), his wife Naw Hsa Ghay (51), their granddaughters Naw K’Ree Htoo (12) and Naw Bleh Po (5), Ma Htwe Yi (50), Naw Mu Tha (40), Mu Bpaw Bpaw (7), Saw K’Pru Mu (14), Naw Plah (5), and Naw Dta Baw (2). All except Saw Toh Paw and Saw K’Pru Mu were women and girls. Nine others were wounded and left there by the troops.
Naw Pee Lee, age 45 from Tee Law Bler village, was shot in the left breast and thigh. Eight or nine months pregnant, she stayed in the forest and her husband, Kho Noc tried to care for her. They tried to seek medical help but were too far away from the nearest medic. The attempted journey was fraught with bad weather and army checkpoints, sending them back. When a medic finally did arrive it was to late. She gave birth, but the baby died immediately. Three days later, on May 10th, Naw Pee Lee died. Two of her five children had been among those already killed in the first barrage. Her husband said, ‘I don’t know what their reasons were for shooting her. We’re just poor people.’’ His daughter Kar Kur, 12, was also shot. A bullet smashed her right arm breaking the bone. She cradled it, protectively in its bamboo shield and crying she said, ‘We ran away when the shooting started. All the people were crying and screaming. I got knocked over by a big bang and my face filled with dust and stones when I fell.’’ (Sources: Bangkok Post, 28 April 2002, and CIDKP, 2002)
17 Year Old Killed, 2 Other Boys Tortured
In 2002, SPDC troops from LIB 415, company 2, led by Kyi Aung entered Ta Ku Kee village, Kya Inn Township. Maung Hla, aged 15, was tending his cattle, when they came upon him, asking if he had met the Kawthoolei soldiers. Maung Hla replied that he had not, and they punched him and kicked him. The same day they met Pa Hto Oo, aged 12, and asked him the same question. He too was badly beaten by the soldiers. They the soldiers went down to the village, and arrested Saw Na Ku, aged 12. He was also badly tortured by the soldiers. On the way back, they came upon Saw Ko Ko, aged 35 who was sawing wood with his two friends. They beat the three men severely without reason. Then the soldiers shot and killed Saw Law Wa Dit, aged 17, near the Ta Ku Kee school. The troops later arrived at No Praw and arrested and tortured Saw Mu Tu. (Source: Burma Issues)
Villagers Killed, Including 5 Year Old Child
In March 2002 Amnesty international interviewed an 18-year-old Burman fisherman from Kyunsuu Island off the coast of Tenasserim Division, who was working on a farm in Thailand. He had left his home because of ‘’mistreatment by the tatmadaw and the militia in my village’’. The interviewee described in detail several grave human rights violations by the tatmadaw which he had witnessed, including torture, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial killings. He himself was subjected to torture after he was forcibly conscripted as a soldier. He witnessed the killing of two Karen civilians from Pa Wa village, Yoma mountain range, by the tatmadaw unit who had abducted him. He said that they slit the throat of a Karen man who was working on his farm and bayoneted his five year old child. The mother was taken away and the witness did not see her again, but was later told by a sergeant that he had raped and killed her. The soldiers also took all the livestock and personal belongings from the Karen villager’s house. The witness did not know the names of the victims but he said the killings made him very angry. (Source: Amnesty International, March 2002)
6. 9 Sexual Assault against Children 2002– partial list of incidents
The frequent rape of girls and young women is particularly demoralizing to ethnic communities, as it conveys the notion that the community is unable to protect even its most vulnerable members. In May 2002, SWAN and SHRF released a report, License to Rape, which documented widespread and systematic rape in Shan State by Burmese soldiers. The youngest rape victim whose case was included in the report was a five year old girl. In April 2003, Refugees International released a report, No Safe Place, which provided evidence that many women and girls from a number of other ethnic minority groups are also targeted for rape by SPDC soldiers. While several cases from 2002 are recorded here, it is important to note that the vast majority of rape cases go unreported and undocumented. (For more information see the chapter on Women.)
3 Women and Girls Raped by Military Commanders
On 7 January 2002, 3 women from Murng-Nai were detained for 3 days and nights and raped by SPDC troops at the base of IB99, in Larng-Khur township. Naang Wun Ki, aged 16, from Kung Nyawng village in Kun Mong village tract, Murng-Nai township, and Naang Thun Mint, aged 17, from Kung Kyawng village in the same village tract, were traveling with Pa Thawn, an elder woman, from Kun Mong village to the border with Thailand to find their relatives. Upon arrival in Larng-Khur town, they were stopped and checked at a police checkpoint, but were let go after a brief search by the police. When they reached a military checkpoint, again they were stopped and checked. When the SPDC troops manning the checkpoint saw the 2 girls, they ordered them to get out of the car, saying that that they could not let them go yet. Pa Thawn then said that she could not go without the 2 girls and stopped with them. When evening came, Pa Thawn took the 2 girls to the house of her friend in Lurng-Khur town to stay for the night. However, at about 8:00 p.m., 5 SPDC soldiers came to that house. They said that they would take (Naang Wun Ki) and (Naang Thun Mint) to see their captain at the military base for questioning just for a short while, and they would bring them back right away. But Pa Thawn insisted on going with them and the troops finally had to let her go. As they got into the IB99 military base, the women were separated and Pa Thawn was taken to a different place and interrogated. The troops asked her whether she had ever taken rice to rebel soldiers and many other questions concerning the rebels. After that she was kept and raped by Capt. Aung Hpyu of Co.1 for 3 nights. The 2 girls were kept and raped by the commander of IB99, Ong Myint Kyaw, also for 3 nights after which all the 3 women were released. (Source: SHRF)
15-Year Old Girl Kidnapped and Raped for 45 Days
On 8 March 2002, a patrol of about 50 SPDC soldiers from LIB 524, led by commander Htun Myint (probably a Captain), looted a remote camp of displaced farmers in Kaeng Kham tract, Kun-Hing township. They forcibly took away a 15-year-old girl to serve as a guide for 45 days, during which time she was raped repeatedly by the commander. The victim, Naang Seng Ying (not her real name), aged 15, belonged to one of the two displaced farming families, originally from Naa Khaa village in Kaeng Kham tract, Kun-Hing township, which had been forcibly relocated by Burmese army troops in 1996-1997. They were staying at a remote camp in the area of their old deserted village.
The troops searched the camp and took chickens and pigs, and all the food stuff they could find, and finally ordered Naang Seng Ying to go with them to serve as a guide for a short while, just to the nearest crossroad. The SPDC troops, however, did not release Naang Seng Ying but forced her to go with them for 45 days while they patrolled the surrounding areas until they reached Wan Lao village in Wan Lao tract, where they released her and returned to their base in Kun-Hing. During the 45-day period of patrolling, commander Htun Myint kept Naang Seng Ying as if she was his wife and raped her almost every night. Soon after she got back to her relatives, following her release, Naang Seng Ying fell ill, became increasingly pale and weak and could not eat properly due to the long ordeal she had to undergo. As her condition became worse, Naang Seng Ying’s relatives took her to the hospital in Kun-Hing town where she received treatment for 6 days, at a huge cost to her relatives of 36,400 Kyats. However, some time after the treatment, she had not fully recovered, and is suspected to have become pregnant. (Source: SHRF)
17-Year Old Girl Gang Raped
In June 2002, Nang Oun, 17 years old, was raped by 3 soldiers. In the interview she could not speak louder than a whisper and had difficulty conveying the events that occurred. She was on the way to fetch water when she was surrounded by the Burmese soldiers. Three of them slapped and beat her while taking turns raping her. She traveled to Thailand with her Aunt, Ba Law, who says that the girl has barely spoken since the incident. In fact, all the young victims interviewed in this particular report were clearly traumatized and mentally disturbed. Two of them gazed around aimlessly and smiled off and on without speaking at all. (Source: U.S. Investigation of Burmese Military Rape of Ethnic Women Report. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State 1 – 4 August 2002 )
13 Year Old Girl Raped By SPDC Soldiers
On 1 August 2002 US State representatives met with a group of 12 women newly arrived from Shan State. 10 out of the 12 women and girls had been raped, all by more than one soldier, and several had additional stories of brutality, torture and execution of other family members or friends. The most recent rape incident among this group, that of a 13 year-old girl, occurred in June 2002. The 13 year old girl was raped by SPDC soldiers, just a month before her and a group of 12 women fled to Thailand. She came from a relocated village in the center of the Shan State. (Source: U.S. Investigation of Burmese Military Rape of Ethnic Women Report. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 1 – 4 August 2002 )
3 Women, Including 13 Year Old Girl, Raped by Patrol Commander
From 26 to 30 June 2002, 3 female petty-goods peddlers were forced to go with a patrol of SPDC troops from LIB514. They were robbed of their goods, and were raped and sexually harassed by the patrol commander, Maj. Than Zaw, in Murng-Kurng and Ho-Pong Township. Than Zaw first forced two women to accompany him, namely Pa Seng, aged 35, and Ae Yaen, aged 13 (not their real names). As the troops left Nawng Zaeng village, they met another women peddler, Naang Awng, aged 25, (not her real name) and forced her along with them. The first night Ae Yaen was continually raped through the night by Than Zaw. The second night he continually raped Pa Seng, and there after raped either of them every night until their arrival at Nawng Mawn village in Ho-Pong Township, on the 30 June. They were then released. The third women Naang Awng managed to hide from the troops when they left the next day, avoiding rape. (Source: SHRF)
Women and Girls Raped Daily by Military Commander
From 8 to 21 August, 2002, 2-3 village women were raped each day by an SPDC military commander while being forced to work at the base of IB292 in Lai-Kha township. The previous week, the commander of IB292 issued an order to the village headmen in the area to provide 5-6 young women per day to ‘help’ clear grass and weed flower beds in the military compound because some senior officers would be visiting the base in the near future. Every day, while the women were working in the military compound, normally around the main buildings, the commander called up one woman at a time to go and work around the barrack where he had his bed room, and eventually forced her into his bed room and raped her.
Each day, 2 to 3 younger and prettier women were raped in this way and were warned not to tell anyone about it by the commander, who also threatened to send troops to shoot and kill not only the women but also their parents if they dared complain about it. One of the rape victims, Naang Thun Nae (not her real name), aged 16, was so shocked by the experience that after she had returned home for some time, she remained withdrawn and could not eat or sleep properly. Finally, she related her plight to her mother and told her that she had been raped by the commander at the IB292 base, on 11 August 2002 whilst working at the base. Her mother then told her father about their daughter’s plight and they both complained about it to the village leaders in the area. When the village leaders asked among the other women who had to go for forced labor during the same time frame as mentioned, most of them dared not speak out, but at least 3 women did say they had been raped like Naang Thun Nae. The village leaders, however, did not dare push the case any further. (Source: SHRF )
15 Year Old Girl Raped; Her Mother Killed
On 6 October 2002, Pa Kham (not her real name), aged 51, was killed and her daughter, Naang Man (not her real name), aged 15, was raped by 2 SPDC soldiers from IB245, at their house in Paang Hung village, Paang Law village tract, Kaeng-Tung township. Pa Kham was a single mother who lived with her teenage daughter, Naang Man, and they made a living by cultivating a vegetable garden near their village. On the evening of the 6 October, after they had returned home from their vegetable garden, 2 SPDC soldiers suddenly came into their house. When the 2 SPDC soldiers saw Naang Man cooking alone in the house, they grabbed her and immediately began to rape her. As she was grabbed by the troops, Naang Man managed to shout out a couple of times, and her mother, hearing the cries, came out of the bedroom. When Pa Kham saw her daughter being attacked and raped by the SPDC troops, she shouted at them and grabbed a kitchen knife as if to strike at them. One of the soldiers then jumped up and kicked Pa Kham, causing her to fall down, and struck her with a rifle butt several times upon the head. Pa Kham died instantly of the beating and Naang Man was raped by the 2 SPDC soldiers. Soon after they had left the house, Naang Man reported her plight to the village headman, who in turn reported it to the head of people’s militia in the area.
Although the head of the people’s militia had listened to the case and said he would take it further to the regional military commander, no action has so far been taken in relation with this case at the time of this report. (Source: SHRF)
13 Year Old Girl Raped; Soldiers Refuse to Allow Her to Seek Medical Treatment
On 10th July 2002, a 13 year old Rohingya girl named Tayaba Khatun from Thamila village of Ratheduang township was raped by 3 Burmese soldiers from Battalion 537. The soldiers had come to the village to loot some chickens. After taking many birds from the villagers, they stored them in front of Maung Bullah’s house. Whilst they were drinking water at the house, they saw Tayaba Khatun inside the house. Finding her father absent from the house, they entered and raped her one after the other, until she fell unconscious and bled profusely. Tayaba Khatun’s elderly mother tried to stop them, but was pushed away. She took out a knife but the soldiers tied her to a post inside the house. She cried for help but the villagers were afraid of the army and dare not come. Before leaving the soldiers threatened the girl and her mother with death if they ever reported what had happened. The following morning when her father Maung Bullah was on his way to hospital with his daughter, the military stopped them, and prohibited them for going for treatment. The incident was reported to the commander, but no action has been taken against the soldiers. (Source: Kaladan Press Network)
14 Year Old Girl Raped by VPDC Chairman
On the 13 May 2002, 14 year old Jamalida of Pranpru village, Na Sa Ka sector No.6, in Maungdaw, was raped by Rahmat Ullah. Rahmat is the chairman of the Village Peace and Development (VPDC). Jamalida is an orphan, and only has her grandmother to care for her. In the middle of the night Rahmat Ullah broke into the house and raped Jamalida at knifepoint. The next morning when the matter was reported to the village elders, a villager in sympathy with the victim, lodged a complaint with the Officer-in-Charge of the nearby Na Sa Ka camp. But no action has yet been taken. The rapist threatened the Jamalida and her grandmother with death if they exposed him. (Source; Kaladan Press Network)
12 Year Old Girl Raped and Killed by Soldiers
In April 2002, a paddy farmer from Karenni State, was interviewed by Earthrights International. He reported: "I have heard about a recent case of rape. [Name redacted], from [name of village redacted], told me that a twelve-year old girl had been raped by soldiers in her village. The girl was sent to a hospital, but she died. I don’t know the battalion number. I don’t know much about this case because I only heard from other people." (Source: We Are Not Free To Work for Ourselves, Earthrights International, January – May 2002)
6. 10 Personal Accounts
Name: Leh Wah
Source: Gathering Strength; Education for Women and Girls, Brenda Belak, Images Asia. 2002)
When I was young, my mother was a school teacher. My father was dead. My aunt and my grandparents were illiterate. Eventually, my mother started working with the Karen Women’s Organization, and she moved far away from our village. When the government found out, they wanted to arrest my mother and my whole family. Luckily, we found out ahead of time. At about 3 a.m., we took our bundles of household goods, what we could carry. We had to move to a village quite far from ours. I was only in the 5th standard, in a government school. I had to leave in the middle of school term. The village that we moved to had a school far away, a Kawthoolei [KNU] school that went up to 7th standard. I wanted to continue my education. We had to cross streams on the way. My grandparents didn’t allow me to go to school anymore. I cried!
I wanted to finish school. My grandparents said, "You have to go far away. Go there only next year." I told them, "Next year you’re going to say the same!" I didn’t think they would allow me to go to school. I begged them. At that time, there was a guy at the other end of the village. He went to the school far away. My mother felt sorry for me. She went to discuss with the parents of that guy. We were teenagers. She said to them that her daughter would also like to go to school and asked them if I could follow their son. They said it was okay, no problem. I was very happy.
We went to their house first and then went to school. It was far away. We had to walk about three hours. We also had to go across the streams. We used rafts. I was fine as long as I could attend school. So I started to go to school again. But it was different. I copied the lessons. My friends helped. When I was in the government school, we didn’t study Karen language. In the new school, we studied Karen language. I had to work hard.
Once it rained heavily and the streams flooded. The friend I used to go to school with didn’t go to school one day. We had a raft. He knew how to use the raft. I thought I could use the raft. School was going to start, so I went by myself. I was in the middle of the stream and the bamboo pole went under the raft and I lost it. First I screamed, and then I was able to retrieve it. Later I got used to going all by myself and didn’t need his help anymore. Sometimes I got scared. When it rained, there would be lightning and I was alone. I cried. Since it was windy I couldn’t use the umbrella. I had to walk in the rain. I went to that school for a year. I passed the exams. I worked hard. I went up to the 7th standard.
If I wanted to go to the 8th standard, I had to go to the government school. My family were outside and I would have to go back in. I had to change my name. I had to write down different names for my parents’ names too. So I went to school up to 8th standard. After the 8th standard exam, my mother became more active. The army was after my grandparents. At that time, I passed the 8th standard and I was about to go to the 9th standard. My grandparents didn’t dare to stay there anymore. At that time, my mother was going back and forth between the border and our place. My grandmother was also scared of being arrested and beaten up. And so my grandparents told my mother that they heard there were refugee camps. We didn’t dare to stay there anymore and decided to move to the refugee camp. It was the year I was in the 9th standard. My teachers didn’t want to let me go. But we had to come to the refugee camp and I continued to attend 9th standard. I passed the 9th standard exam and took the 10th standard exam.
Then I went for a medical training. It was far away, near Battalion 6. I went there for two years, and I was able to become a medic. I thought that if we have education, we can do something. My parents were not educated. If I had listened only to my parents and my grandparents, I would have had to leave school by the 4h or 5th standard. But I thought to myself that my grandparents are uneducated, and they cannot decide, because they’re uneducated. That’s how I really felt. I thought it’s bad if we’re not educated. So I took a risk. Many times I missed my family and my mother very much. I cried from loneliness. But I am very glad I got an education, because now I am able to do many things for our people.
Soldiers Receive Payment for Recruiting Children into Army
Name: Maung Soe (not real name)
Age: 20 years
Source: Interviewed by: HRDU
Date of interview: 2002
Place of interview: Mae Sot, Thailand
According to Maung Soe, in Thinkanyut, a suburb of Rangoon, there are many train stations, and 8 soldiers are posted at each station. Maung Soe says that in the whole town there are approximately 80 soldiers. The soldiers frequently try to recruit young boys they see at the station who are not accompanied by adults. These are usually children who have run away from home. The soldiers generally only try to recruit young boys, because they are more [naïve] and easier to convince than older teenagers or adult men. Maung Soe says that he has seen boys as young as 8 years old be recruited, but based on his experience he thinks that the majority of the boys recruited, (approximately 70%), are 10 or 11 years old.
Maung Soe reports that when soldiers see unaccompanied boys lingering around the station, they call them over and ask questions such as: "Where do you live? Who are your parents? " If they suspect that the children are alone they will then say: "Do you want to join the army? Do you want to carry a gun? Do you want to be a lieutenant? We will pay you lots of money."
After the boys are recruited they are sent to the Insein recruitment center. Maung Soe says that young boys are kept at the recruitment center until they are 15, before being sent to the front lines. Sometimes parents of the boys go to the recruitment center to complain that their children are too young to be in the army. However they are told that their children will be kept at the recruitment center for training until they are 15. Parents also face difficulty in tracking down children who are recruited at train stations, as every two months the soldiers posted at the train stations are rotated to another location and replaced by new soldiers.
One of Maung Soe’s friends, Ali (not real name) was recruited in 2000 when he was 17 years old. Ali was very unhappy at the recruitment center and after spending 15 days there he escaped and ran home to his parents. However the authorities from the recruitment center tracked him down at his house and arrested him. Even though his parents begged the soldiers not to take him away, the soldiers said that Ali had committed a crime and he was put in prison for one year.
Maung Soe says that it is widely known that soldiers are paid for every boy that they bring to the recruitment center. When the boys are brought to the center, which is run by LIB 200, the soldiers receive 4,000 kyat and one bag of rice for each new recruit. Maung Soe’s friend Ali, was told this when he arrived at the recruitment center by other new recruits who had heard the soldiers talking about it. Nowadays older teenagers or young men generally refuse attempts to recruit them into the army and tell the soldier "you only want money."
When he was in Burma Maung Soe traveled frequently because of his job, and so says he has witnessed this type of recruitment countless times in train stations. He estimates that in his town at least 500 runaways and street children have been recruited by SPDC soldiers to join the army. He also says that he has rescued many boys from being recruited by warning them not to believe what the soldiers promise about their future life in the army. Nowadays, Maung Soe says that young boys rarely spend more than one or two days at a train station before they are recruited.
Interview with Child Soldier #1
Name: Zaw Myint (not real name)
Age: 13 years
Address in Burma: xxxxx Township, Rangoon Division
Mother: xxxxx (died in 1995)
Siblings: 2 older brothers, 21 and 18 years old. Both are soldiers. The elder joined the army 7 years ago, and the middle brother joined 3 or 4 years ago.
Education completed: 1st standard
Time spent in the army: 2 years
Source: Interviewed by: HRDU
Date of interview: 2002
Place of interview: Mae Sot
Zaw Myint was forcibly recruited as a soldier during the summer of 2000 when he was 11 years old. At this time he was traveling to Mingaladon Township to visit his aunt. When he arrived at the Mingaladon bus station two SPDC corporals grabbed him and told him that he was being forced to join the army, and that if he refused he would be put in jail. Then he was taken to Danyingone recruitment center opposite Mingaladon Township. From here he was taken to a basic training camp for soldiers in Ye Ni (Pyinmana) Township. The training he attended was the seventh training held at the training camp. There were 250 other soldiers at the training camp while Zaw Myint was there, 15 of them were 15 or 16 years old, and 15 others were 8 to 14 years old. The older and younger soldiers were kept together. The youngest recruit at the training camp was a boy named Kyaw Aung who was only 7 or 8 years old. This boy was too young to attend the trainings, but after the training period was sent to Kyainseikyi military camp (IB 32) to perform chores at the camp.
Zaw Myint and the other recruits spent four months at the basic training camp. While there he reported that he got an adequate amount of food but the quality of the food was not good. Most of the time the recruits were fed bean curry, and only got buffalo meat three times a week. Zaw Myint did not get sick while he was there but some of his friends suffered from malaria and other illnesses and were treated at the camp clinic. There was no school at the training camp, and the recruits were only taught how to use a gun, how to follow orders and other military matters. Zaw Myint says that he was taught nothing about the laws of war or the Geneva Convention. Sometimes the teachers beat the recruits if they could not perform a task correctly, but Zaw Myint was not beaten at the training camp. While he was in the training camp, Zaw Myint wrote a letter to his parents, but received no reply. He believes that the letter was never sent or did not reach them, and to date he has had no communication with his family since he was taken at the Mingaladon bus station.
After the four months of training Zaw Myint was sent to LIB 341 based at Kow-pauk military camp, Papun Township, Karen State. There were approximately 200 other soldiers at the camp, including 15 soldiers between the ages of 11 and 15. Two of his friends from the training were sent to the same camp. One of his friends, 13 year old, Lin Lin Oo contracted a severe case of malaria. Though he was given medicine, he died in June 2002. Lin Lin Oo was from Mergui, his personnel number was (Taung-oo-bu / 21128). Another of Zaw Myint’s friends was XX, who is 14 or 15 years old and is currently on duty in the rear camp. Two of the other younger soldiers that Zaw Myint remembers were XX and XX who are both 15 years old. Most of the 15 younger soldiers spent time on duty at the front lines.
Four of the other 14 young soldiers are:
1. XX - 13 yrs old 2. XX - 15 yrs old
3. XX - 15 yrs old 4. XX - 15 yrs old
Zaw Myint was never sent to the front lines and stayed at Kow-pauk the entire time he was with the army. His daily routine at the camp began at 6am when he woke up and had breakfast. As soon as he finished eating he had to work cutting bamboo and building fences with it until 11 am. At 11 he had lunch and then a break until 1pm. He continued to work cutting bamboo until 4pm. After dinner he served as a sentry from 6 to 10 pm. After 10 another person relived him and he went to bed. While at the Camp Zaw Myint carried a machine gun called a MA-11 (MA= Myanmar Army), and 120 cartridges. During the first six months that Zaw Myint was with the army, including the four months of training he was paid 3,500 kyat a month. After six months he was paid 4,500 kyats a month. Zaw Myint was beaten twice by one of the officers, Htay Myint, when he was unable to perform some duty. Both times he was hit on the face hard.
The Battalion Commander of LIB 341 was Thura Thura Saw Mya Thaung. The other officers were:
1. Ko Ko Zart - Company (3)
2. Pyint Soe Han – Company (4)
3. Thant Zaw Oo – Company (2)
4. Zin Min Aung – Company (1)
5. Lin Zaw Htut – Assistant of battalion office
There were some villages near the camp, but Zaw Myint does not remember their names. Once a week the soldiers would collect 10 residents of nearby villages to come and do construction work at the camp. These people were required to bring leaves used for building the roofs of huts. Some opposition troops did come and stage campaigns near the camp, and soldiers who had been at the camp longer told Zaw Myint that they had burnt down many villages. Zaw Myint remembers that one time a man from one of the nearby villages was brought to the camp and accused of laying landmines. Though he was tortured and beaten all night, the soldiers could not find any evidence against him so he was released the next day.
Zaw Myint hated staying at the military camp. On 30 September 2002 he said he was going to bathe in a stream outside the camp, and then ran away. He walked for one day until he met a villager. He explained that he had been a soldier but was trying to escape from the army, and the man brought him to one of the KNU camps. He stayed there for one night and then a KNU official sent him to Mae Sot (Thailand).
In the future Zaw Myint would like to be a professional football player or wrestler. He would also like to go back to Burma and meet his family.
Interview with Child Soldier # 2
Name: Sai Maleik (or) Sai Hein Thu
Address; Lin Khea township. Shan state
Private Number: Ta/ 206403
Battalion: LIB 256, Division 101
Area: Pakukku, Magwe Division
Time spent in the army: 1 year.
Source: Interviewed by FTUB (TUR/HR)
Date of interview: 5 March 2002
Place of interview: Nyaung Lay Bin District
In May 2001, I was arrested by the SPDC soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB)525 whilst I was working at our slash and burn rice field. I was forced to serve as a porter and I had to carry rice and ammunition for eight days. The weight was over 10 viss (1 viss equals to 1.6 kg) and I had to carry it for about 12 hours a day. At that time, soldiers provided us with meals two times a day. There were about 60 soldiers from the LIB 525 and over 30 porters including me. During the journey, porters who could not carry loads were beaten. The LIB 525 soldiers shot dead three porters when they tried to escape. The three dead were villagers from Wan Sit village. After serving eight days, I was taken to an army camp located between Pan Pao and Moe Neh villages. Two days later I was sent to the Recruit Centre in Taunggyi against my will.
Days later, I was sent to Ayardaw Training Centre, Mone Ywar district, in Sagaing division, in central Burma, which I had never been to before. I had to attend four months basic army training course. During this time, trainees had to grow tamarind, mango and other vegetable plants. There were about 200 trainees and the training camp commander was Captain Aye Lwin.
There were child soldiers in the training course. Many of them did not voluntarily join the army, and always tried to escape from the training centre, but our homes were too far to go. To prevent escape, a trainee had to take off all clothes in the night time when he wanted to go toilet.
During the training period, the first salary, 3000 Kyats was paid after the second
month. However, because of deduction for uniforms, equipment, etc. we got around 600 to 700 Kyats a month.
After the training course, I was appointed to Light Infantry Battalion 256, Division 101, located in Pakukku, Magwe Division. The acting battalion commander was Major Aung Min. There was no deputy battalion commander and there were only about 170 men including officers and soldiers. In the first two months, October and November 2001, I worked at the battalion’s plantation field and cleaning the battalion office. I saw some soldiers that managed to escape but were later arrested by the battalion and were severely beaten.
In December, 2001, our battalion was sent to the front line, Nyaung Lay Bin area. We reached Kyaukkyi and then in January 2002, the battalion was stationed between Mu Thea and Shar Daw. Our company had about 30 soldiers and 6 prisoner porters.
On January 31, 2002, early in the morning while I was serving sentry duty, I decided to run from the battalion. I brought my automatic rifle (MA 1) with 170 rounds, a hand grenade and four magazines. I spent 9 days in the forest and found no one but destroyed villages. After nine days, I saw two villagers with a home made shot gun and I asked assistance. They brought me to their hidden village and then handed me over to the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). My will is I would like to return home. If not, I prefer to join the SSA (Shan State Army). The Karen National Union officers promised me to send back home.’
Interview with Child Soldier # 3
Name: Saw Aung
Religion; [not stated]
Address; [not stated]
Source: Interviewed by UNICEF
Date of interview: 2002
Place of interview: Karenni refugee camp
Saw Aung was 7 years old and working on his family’s farm during the summer school break with two cousins, ages 6 and 8, when they were taken away by Burmese soldiers. Saw Aung, whose father is Burman and mother Karen, has not seen his family since.
‘About 10 Burmese soldiers in uniform with guns came and said, "Come with us." "No, we are very young." "No, follow us," they said, "We will give you food, candy." We were young, we couldn’t think much. We traveled by motorboat for three nights. When we reached the recruitment center in Rangoon, we talked with others about how they had come there – their parents had kicked them out of the house and they didn’t know where to go. Like us, they were forced or kidnapped with promises of food and candy. The center was called ‘Ye Nunt’. We were very, very afraid about what we were going to tell our parents. I tried to communicate through letters. I stayed in Ye Nyunt for five years. We were told we couldn’t go back home and that we would have to stay there. They threatened us to keep us from escaping. Some escaped and were sent to prison. Some were beaten. Some committed suicide. I know of five. One person drowned by driving a truck into a river. One jumped from a high building. Most were forced or tricked to join and always wanted to go home. They were very frustrated. The only way out was to kill themselves. We were children. We wanted to play, have fun or work with our parents.
I was very depressed. I stayed in the barracks. Of course I wanted an education. I’m illiterate now. I can only write my name.
Within the camp, you don’t go to school. I took care of the pigs. You could work at the fishpond, raise chickens, breed livestock. You could do any of these things but you couldn’t go home. Some of the officers were nice. Some kicked us; they’d lose patience if you kept crying. A child crying a lot and not taking orders was sent to prison. The barracks were very long. As far as you could see there were kids. Some stayed only one or two years in the barracks.
I felt I had no freedom. We were never allowed to go and see our parents. Finally,
I decided to flee. I’m very bitter about the Burmese army. I haven’t been able to see my parents or my sisters and brother. After I escaped, the Army told my parents I had died in the fighting.
I have bad dreams but not frequently. Sometimes I am being killed, sometimes I’m being tortured but not killed. Sometimes I dream I get to finally meet my parents but they’re sick. Sometimes my anger is so big. I’m trying to be happy with friends. I drink a little alcohol now. I still want to take revenge because I’m separated from my family. I want to give them [the Burmese army] the same suffering I have had. One day…if I get a chance…I will do something for all the people sharing the same suffering. If I hadn’t been taken by the soldiers, I‘d be living with my parents happily, warmly. I’d be educated. It’s what I want.’
Child Labor Interview
Name: Nay Myo
Father’s name and occupation: (deceased), Construction worker.
Mother’s name and occupation: (not stated), Homemaker.
Other siblings: Eldest of three brothers (one deceased) and one sister.
Address in Burma: XX village, XX township, Mon State
Address in Thailand: Mae Pa, Tak province.
Education completed: 2nd standard.
Source: Interviewed by HRDU
Date of interview: 2002
Place of interview: Mae Sot, Thailand
Nay Myo’s Father died of a heart attack in 1996. The only medical service available in the village is a nurse’s clinic. As the family could not afford it, his father received no medical treatment. His Mother remarried an alcoholic after he had raped her. In 2001, while drunk he broke one of Nay Myo’s brother’s legs when he threw him from their house. His brother subsequently died through lack of medical attention.
Nay Myo’s mother is now in jail and has been accused of stealing 60,000 kyat. She maintains her innocence but has to remain in detention until such time as she can replace the money. After his mother was put in jail relatives took Nay Win to stay with them in Thailand. His sister has gone to stay with the family of one his Father’s former co-workers in Rangoon Division. Nay Myo’s other brother has gone to stay with his maternal Grandmother. No family is rich enough to take all the children and keep them together.
For about one year before his mother was arrested, Nay Myo worked with her and his brother as substitute forced laborers. In his village people who can pay between 100 to 200 kyat per day to the VPDC can avoid mandatory forced labor duty. The VPDC acts as a broker and hires other people to replace those who have paid. Nay Myo’s family was paid 3000 kyat per month for this. Their task was to serve as sentries, watching over a train bridge for the police. There were six other lookout posts and a central police checkpoint. This checkpoint was manned by 10 police officers armed with rifles and revolvers. The police threatened Nay Myo’s family that if anything happened to the bridge or track, they would make them act as porters. The substitute forced laborers had to maintain a 24-hour 7-day a week watch, which was divided into three shifts.
The police often made the substitute forced laborers go and buy alcohol for them. There was no safety rail for pedestrians on the bridge and crossing it at night on these errands was dangerous. The police were often drunk. They would also often take food from the family, including meals that had been prepared but had not yet been eaten. Usually the family ate dried fish and rice. Nay Myo says that he was not hungry and his mother just made do with what they had.
During his off shift for sentry duty, Nay Myo also worked as a cattle herd for local farmers. He expected to be paid but wasn’t. He kept the job because it gave him the opportunity to forage for wild vegetables from the land. He also reports working as a day laborer doing work such as catching and selling fish or harvesting coconuts.
In November 2001, the first month Nay Myo and his family started working as sentries, a police private became drunk and lay down to go to sleep on the train tracks. A train ran over him, splitting his body with such force that it fell far from the track. The police asked Nay Myo and his family if they had seen the body, but being afraid they lied and said no. They were taken to the police checkpoint and had to make statements as witnesses. They also had to contribute 5000 kyat for funeral expenses.
When he first came to Thailand, Nay Myo was working as a day laborer for 12 baht a day. He is currently attending a school funded by an NGO and is not working. In the future Nay Myo wants to continue studying and become a teacher.
Go to Main Page