6. Rights of the Child
“As long as the dictatorship continues to devote half of its budget to military expenditure and to flagrantly violate human rights, Burmese children will continue to be denied proper health care and education, and child labor will remain a major problem. As for any country, the children of Burma are its future. They are direct victims of the acts of violence committed by the military dictatorship and its deplorable management of the country.”
(Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
6.1 Situation of Children in Burma
A large segment of Burma’s population is made up of children, with 42% under the age of 18 years. While according to traditional culture children are valued and cherished in Burma, the ruling military dictatorship does not regard children’s development and welfare as a priority. As Burma became a signatory party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 15 August 1991, they are bound to uphold its mandates. 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) established a new Child Law on 14 July 1993, in order to "implement the rights of the child recognized in the Convention." The child law states, "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) However there is striking evidence that the SPDC continually flouts both the CRC and their own Child Law.
Almost half of the state budget is allocated to the army, despite the fact that the country is not exposed to any external threats, leaving very little for the vital education and health care systems. Decades of military mismanagement of the economy has resulted in a catastrophic economic situation and is forcing the vast majority of parents to rely on the contribution of their children working in order to feed their families. The worst forms of child labor – whether in the army, the construction industry, domestic work, the mines or elsewhere – are present throughout Burma. Children are by no means exempt from the forced labor imposed on hundreds of thousands of the Burmese population by the Tatmadaw or armed forces. Moreover, the SPDC continues unabated to forcibly recruit children into the army, some as young as eleven years old. Boys are not the only ones exposed to abuse by the military as young girls are frequently forced to serve as porters and sexual slaves for army troops.
Ethnic minority children are often more vulnerable to abuse due to the fact that the on-going civil war is often 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. 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. There can be no improvement in the situation for the children of Burma without a radical change in the government and progress towards democracy.
6.2 Status of Education of Children in Burma
"The junta’s neglect of the sector has made the country’s education system worse than it ever was. They never spend enough money on education."
- Dr Thein Lwin, from the Teacher Training for Burmese Teachers Program (Source: Moe, Kyaw Zwa, “Junta Blamed for Education Woes,” Irrawaddy, 14 May 2003)
On 30 August 2003, newly appointed Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, claimed in a speech that since 1988 the military regime has opened over 6,000 new basic education schools, increased the number of teachers by 49,000 and increased the number of students attending primary school by 2.3 million. In addition, Khin Nyunt indicated that the regime has opened over 122 new universities and colleges and increased opportunities for technical and computer education (source: Under Pressure, ALTSEAN, July-September 2003). Yet, at the same time, the population of Burma has increased from 48 million to 56 million. The reality of the education system in Burma is far from satisfactory and does not serve the needs of most children (source: Burma’s Child in Education, ABFSU, August 2003).
The Burmese government spends 7 times less on education than on the armed forces. In 1998-99, 6.98% of the state budget went to education as compared to 49.93% for defense. Since 1990, government expenditure on civilian education has dropped by 70 percent, and the most recent statistics indicate that spending on education is currently equivalent to less than 1% of the GDP. According to World Bank figures, Burma’s military government spends only $0.28 per year for every child in a public school. In order to uphold the standards set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the SPDC must focus both greater energy and funding on increasing access to basic education for all children. (Source: Zin, Min, “Hard Lessons,” Irrawaddy, Vol 11. No. 6, July 2003)
A report commissioned by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, “Growing Up Under The Burmese Dictatorship," indicates there are approximately 39,000 state-run primary schools in the country, or one for every two villages. Only 46% of them have toilets, and 17% have running water. Children who live in remote areas may have to walk hours to even reach a school and UNESCO estimates that some 2,000 villages are more than 3 kilometers from the nearest school. The problems are even greater in secondary schools, of which there are fewer than 3,000 in the whole country. UNICEF notes that according to a joint inquiry by the Ministry of Education, the UNDP and UNESCO, 57% of schools are overpopulated due to inadequate buildings. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Due to scarce resources and inadequate funding, the school system is unable to provide for the needs of Burma’s youth. Drop-out rates in Burma are among the highest in Asia, with poverty being the main reason why students are unable to complete their studies. Many children do not attend school at all, and the majority does not complete their high school education. According to UN figures, a startling 98% of Burmese students drop out before finishing high school. Even at the primarily level of education, only relatively well-off families are able to afford to send their children to school. Government figures indicate that less than 55% of children registered in a school complete primary education. In 1999, 75% of children between the ages of 5 and 9 went to school, while the numbers reduced to 35% of 10 to 13-year olds and barely 26% for 14 and 15-year olds. This means that 750,000 Burmese children drop out of primary education every year, with 630,000 of these children coming from rural regions. (Source: Children and Women in Myanmar: Situation Assessment and Analysis, UNICEF Myanmar, April 2001)
Parents who cannot afford to send all their children to school often choose to educate their sons over their daughters. As a result, 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. A young mother of two laments, "The cost of education is too high. I can’t afford to send both of my children to school. I know it is sad and unfair to my daughter, but I have to take her out of school so that my oldest son can go onto the ninth grade." This mother lives in Shwe Pyi Thar, a new satellite township in Rangoon where she runs a clothing store at the local market. "I have educated my daughter up to the fourth grade, but now she’ll have to help me in the store," (source: Zin, Min, “Hard Lessons," Irrawaddy, Vol. 11 No. 6, July 2003).
According to official propaganda and national law it is the government’s policy to provide free education to all children. However, in reality parents are forced to pay enrollment fees, most of the costs associated with building, maintaining and equipping schools, along with provision of school supplies, uniforms and the wages of the teachers. A recent education report, published by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Thai-based All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), indicates that parents must pay an initial 3,000 kyat (US$3) enrolment fee for primary education, and then continue to pay at least 500 kyat per month for in-school tuition. An average Burmese salary is between 5,000 and 6,000 kyat per month, making it not only difficult to afford education, but often impossible (source: Zin, Min, “Hard Lessons," Irrawaddy, Vol. 11 No. 6, July 2003). In rural and ethnic regions education is an even greater financial burden on the community, as the government assumes even less financial responsibility there by promoting so-called “self-reliance” programs, where the funds for the school are collected directly from the community (source: Burma’s Child in Education, ABFSU, August 2003).
Along with enrollment fees and tuition, parents are often expected to pay additional expenses, such as for IT equipment. Some schools may ask for a contribution towards computers, although they are not always purchased, the school may lack electricity, or there is no teacher actually capable of using a computer. Parents are also forced to make yearly contributions to the parent-teacher association, as well as the compulsory membership to the State sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which is the junta’s civilian wing established to support the activities and policies of the SPDC. Another hidden cost includes the purchasing of exam questions in advance by pupils who can afford it, and even bribing teachers to receive higher marks. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Success in school ultimately depends on the amount of financial resources the children’s parents have. Because of the inadequate pay teachers receive, many resort to only teaching the most basic theoretical fundamentals during school hours and encouraging students to pay extra for evening classes where they are given the opportunity to actually ask questions and attempt exercises. On average the salary for primary school teachers is US$5 per month and US$6-8 for secondary school teachers. However, it takes an estimated US$50-$100 per month to feed a family in Burma. To supplement their incomes, teachers charge on average between US$2-6 a month per subject and per pupil for extra lessons. Those pupils who can afford to pay for these extra lessons are far more likely to pass their exams, either due to favoritism from their teachers or because they have understood the subjects better. According to the ICFTU, approximately 50-80% of pupils attend private lessons outside of normal school hours. Children who cannot afford such lessons fear they are being discriminated against and risk losing their motivation. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
In an interview conducted by the ICFTU, a primary school teacher in Rangoon explains, “In my primary school, which achieves quite good results, the pupils need between 15,000 and 30,000 kyat (between US$15-30) a month on average in order to attend classes, including their schoolbooks and private lessons. I know that is too much for most parents, particularly if they have a lot of children, and do not like to force the pupils to attend my private lessons, but I have no choice: after a 10-year career I only earn 5,000 kyat per month (it was 3,000 at the start of my career, but at the time the kyat was worth more). When I retire my monthly pension will only be 1,500 kyat. My rent is 28,000 kyat per month; I have to pay 52 kyat a day for the bus to and from school, plus food, clothes, etc. So to survive I have to encourage my pupils to attend my private lessons. School starts at 9:00 am and goes on till 3:30 pm, from Monday to Friday. From 3:30 to 4:30 pm I hold a first series of private lessons at the school, which cost 1,000 kyat per month. About 20 of the 30 pupils come to them. Then, from 5:00 to 6:30 pm I hold more advanced private lessons in my own home and about 12 pupils attend them, each paying 4,000 kyat per month for 3 days per week. I have to run that kind of system in order to survive myself, but it makes me sad to know that not all my pupils have the same opportunities since they cannot all afford to attend the private lessons.” Such economic pressure on teachers ultimately results in inequality in the education system, in which poorer students suffer. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Schools in Burma also face a desperate shortage of textbooks. More often than not schools use out-dated schoolbooks from the 1950s or 60s, since the government does not update them or distribute any new ones. It was reported that in some areas, students resort to drawing straws in order to get their own government-provided book. A tenth grade student at Basic High School in Tamwe Township in Rangoon, Nyein Nyein, indicated, "The unlucky ones who draw the shortest straw have to copy someone else’s or buy a textbook in the market." (Source: Zin, Min, “Hard Lessons," Irrawaddy, Vol 11. No. 6, July 2003)
The government has also failed to invest adequately in teacher training, which ultimately results in an unsatisfactory education for the majority of children. 35% of primary teachers are unqualified. The ICFTU reports; “Teachers at a primary school we visited in Rangoon are supposed to be teaching English, but a conversation with them can scarcely go beyond the conventional “Hello, how are you? Fine, thank you.” This is not because they are shy and scared of chatting to foreigners, but because their knowledge of English is purely theoretical. A private teacher of languages explains, “They just read aloud from their textbooks, and their pronunciation is so bad that language teaching is extremely ineffective in Burmese state schools, though we were amongst the best in this field 50 years ago.” (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Schools for Children of the Military Elite and Private Schools
In addition to schools for civilians, the SPDC has established a primary and secondary education system exclusively for the children of high-ranking army officers that lend to maintaining the social hierarchy. These schools have more modern equipment and offer luxury amenities, such as computers and computer training, school trips, sports, etc. The best schools require registration fees that are beyond the means of ordinary people. According the ABFSU, these registration fees can range between US$100-$200 per year. At these schools children are indoctrinated to believe that the army must always be obeyed and never criticized. The children of the highest-ranking officers are occasionally able to study abroad after completion of their studies in these types of schools. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under a Military Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Aside from public schools and the SPDC’s exclusive schools, other private education institutions do exists. However this alternative is only open to Rangoon’s elite of wealthy businessmen, top-ranking officials, their close associates, and foreign diplomats. At the International Language and Business Center in Rangoon, tuition starts around 1.1 million kyat (US$1,160) per year for kindergarten students and rises as students move onto higher grades. Many private schools cost even more, and only the upper echelon of society is capable of paying this. (Source: Moe, Kyaw Zwa, “Educating the Elite," Irrawaddy, Vol. 11 No. 6, July 2003)
After the 30 May massacre in 2003 and the ensuing crackdown on Burma’s opposition, including the re-arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the SPDC ordered schools across Burma to close their doors in an attempt to stop any dissent from brewing among students and spilling out into the streets. The Burmese military regime has continually closed down schools in order to suppress the population, particularly since the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 in which students played a central role and many sacrificed their own lives. Students have long been regarded as the vanguard of the pro-democracy movement. (See chapter on assembly and association for more information about the events of 30 May at Depayin.)
While schools in Burma rely entirely on teacher-centered methodologies and encourage rote learning, whereby students’ participation in the classroom is largely passive and controlled, teachers are also forced to ensure that their students do not get involved in anti-military activities. "Government policies such as militarization, Burmanization and pessimism about democracy have always been included in the curriculum, particularly in the history subjects," (source: Zin, Min, “Hard Lessons," Irrawaddy, Vol 11. No. 6, July 2003). Student Unions are strictly banned and any assembly of students, regardless of whether the purpose is artistic or social, has been banned by the government. Instead students are encouraged to conform and are frequently coerced into joining the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which means joining in activities organized by army officers and performing for high-ranking officials when they visit schools. Students are quickly indoctrinated with the ideals of not questioning authority or thinking critically, reinforcing military ideology and rules.
In 2003, the ABFSU reported the arrest and detention of a high school student from Monywa, named Chan Thar Kyaw (age 15). He was arrested and imprisoned because of participation in a political protest on 30 May, which was the same day as the State sponsored attack on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and members and supporters of the NLD near Depayin, Sagaing Division. (Source: Burma’s Child in Education, All Burma Federation of Student Unions, August 2003)
Education in Ethnic Minority and/or Conflict Areas
Ethnic minority children, particularly those in areas of active conflict, suffer the most from Burma’s failing education system. Children in these areas endure on-going civil war and subsequent human rights violations, including forced labor, forced relocation, rape, and summary executions. In addition, they face a lack of schools compounded by the fact that existing schools are constantly forced to shut down due to military campaigns in the area. Schools in rural regions populated by the ethnic minorities are critically under-funded and under-staffed. Attendance at such schools is also low, with just 10% of Karenni children and 20% of Karen children attending classes. The drop out rate is also alarmingly high, with just 1% of primary school students completing their secondary education. Shan children are considered among the most vulnerable and have a high level of illiteracy (source: Lwin, Dr. Thein, “Learning in a Democracy,” Irrawaddy, Vol. 11 No. 6, July 2003). Children in rural areas are often expected to contribute to the harvesting of crops, as well as looking after the youngest members of a family, which contributes to low attendance (source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under a Military Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003).
When the government fails to provide a school for a village, the residents may try to remedy the situation by building and maintaining their own primary school. In this case, the local residents are responsible for hiring teachers, as well as paying their salaries- sometimes with only a few bags of rice. The level of education in schools such as these is reportedly quite basic due to the lack of resources. Many do not manage to teach the students more than basic literacy. The ICFTU explains, “Sometimes the teachers themselves have not studied beyond the 6th grade at primary level, but bravely attempt to pass on what little knowledge they have acquired,” (source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under a Military Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003). Such schools’ examination certificates are not generally recognized by the government or by the state secondary schools, resulting in few prospects for pupils to obtain further education. However, it is only within these independently-run schools that teaching can be conducted in an ethnic minority’s mother tongue. Although the SPDC has failed to provide children from these areas with equal access to an education, the military regime is vehemently opposed to teaching in any language other than Burmese. Therefore, the Burma Army has been reported to destroy and burn down such schools when it encounters them.
The use of the Burmese language at government schools discourages and alienates many students. Teachers sent from Rangoon to rural villages often are reportedly unmotivated and unable to communicate properly with the students (source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under a Military Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003). In addition, the SPDC’s curriculum is reported to promote the Burmese language and culture, while vilifying opposition groups. Conversely, curriculum in schools run by the ethnic groups can be extremely nationalist and is thought to promote a degree of xenophobia (source: Lwin, Dr. Thein, “Learning in a Democracy," Irrawaddy, Vol. 11 No. 6, July 2003).
As an estimated 600,000 - 1 million people in Burma are internally displaced persons or IDPs, children living under these conditions have virtually no access to education, adequate food or medicine. Instead they live their lives on the run from military campaigns against their communities and are forced to try and survive in the jungles. “Even though the IDPs’ living conditions are tremendously challenging and they struggle daily to find food to survive, some villagers manage to set up small ‘class-rooms’ in the jungle, a true testimony to their determination to provide their children with an education. These schools move with the IDPs and the best educated provide lessons on the alphabet and other essentials. Several NGOs and exiled Burmese trade unions send brave activists out to the jungles to locate IDPs and provide them with bags of rice, medicine, and basic school supplies.” (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under a Military Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Education of Children in Burma - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
At the beginning of 2003, every primary, middle and high school in Namtu Township, located in northern Shan State, was ordered to erect a stone pillar in front of the school by the township authorities. Teachers were instructed to collect 300 kyat from each student in order to build this pillar. In addition, they were ordered to purchase television sets by collecting fees of 150 kyat from each student.
Such a demand was excessive for some students. A teacher from a Palaung village explained, “If we are unable to collect the amount of money that the township authorities have requested we will have to pay with our own money. Some student didn’t have enough money to pay, so we had to pay for them.” She also elaborated on how her own financial difficulties were discouraging her from continuing her work. “I receive only 8,000 kyat per month from the government. It is not enough for one month.” Villagers are often burdened with purchasing rice and other essentials for teachers. Most of the villagers in Shan State are poor and the price of such commodities is quite high for them. (Source: Palaung Youth Newsletter, PYNG, Issue #3, August 2003)
6.3 Status of Health of Children in Burma
Children often suffer the most from the government’s severe neglect of Burma’s deteriorating health care system. While the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child demands that children’s “right to life, and the right to survival and development” are protected, the SPDC has failed to make significant efforts to ensure proper healthcare and access to such care which would protect these rights. According to the U.S. Department of State, the Government has cut official expenditures on public health care even more sharply than it has cut spending on education, with government expenditures on health care in 1998-99 equal to a mere 0.3% of the GDP. In 2001, UN sponsored studies revealed that 109 of 1,000 children died before reaching the age of 5, and only 1 out of 20 births in rural areas was attended by a doctor. Another study conducted jointly by the Ministry of Labor and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2001 found that 7.9% of children under 5 years of age were severely malnourished. A report published by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF in 2000 found that nation-wide 35.3% of children under 5-years old are moderately to severely underweight, 33.9% are moderately to severely underdeveloped, and 9.4% are moderately to severely emaciated. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004).
According to UNICEF, of the 1.3 million children born in Burma every year, 92,500 die before reaching their first birthday, and 138,000 die before reaching the age of five. The infant mortality rate before one year of age was 71 per 1,000 live births in 1996 (73 in rural areas and 66 in urban areas), and the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 was 106 per 1000. The main causes of illness and death among Burma's children are pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, hepatitis B and AIDS. Malnutrition also encourages the development of these illnesses, as does the lack of sufficient clean water in approximately 15,813 villages. (Source: Under Pressure, ALTSEAN, July- September 2003)
In 2003, more than one out of every three children in Burma who were under the age of five were undernourished, which coincides with the fact that a quarter of all families in Burma have below subsistence level incomes. This leaves the vast majority of children at a high risk for developing the above-mentioned diseases. According to UNICEF's Burma section, the majority of infant deaths are caused by lack of medical attention and knowledge. This is a direct result of lack of funding as the Government directs most state resources to military expenditures and not to healthcare. In 1998-99, a mere 2.6 % of the state budget was allocated to the health sector. The result is a health care system with insufficient facilities, too few health care workers, inadequate health education programs and lack of rural services. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
According to the Burmese government's figures for 1999, the public health system had 6 hospital beds, 3 doctors and 2 nurses for every 10,000 inhabitants. Yet, healthcare infrastructures are unevenly distributed with children living in border areas or predominately ethnic-minority areas having the least access as well as being the most vulnerable, with only one hospital for every 132,500 inhabitants and one rural health center for 221,000 people. Children in these areas are not only exposed to the dangers of armed-conflict, such as landmines and crossfire, but 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. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Children and HIV/AIDS
The Burmese government has only recently begun to acknowledge that HIV/AIDS is a health issue that must be addressed. According to Burma’s Ministry of Health, there are 180,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS in Burma. UNAIDS estimates the figure to be somewhere between 170,000 and 420,000 people. However, researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health contend that using a "conservative approach" as many as 832,100 individuals could be HIV positive (source: “AIDS in Burma 2003," Irrawaddy, December 2003). UNICEF reports that the most common mode of HIV transmission to children under 15 years of age is from their mothers, which is preventable.
Children with HIV/AIDS not only face difficulties in obtaining adequate healthcare, but they also face difficulties accessing government services because of the social stigma associated with the disease. The British Ambassador to Burma, Vicky Bowman, explained, “It saddens me when I hear that some local orphanages and hospices, who have overcome bureaucratic obstacles to provide care to the vulnerable, nonetheless won’t take children whose parents have died of AIDS, let alone treat and care for those in the final stages of the disease. It seems to stem from a deep-rooted attitude that anyone who suffers from HIV/AIDS has brought it on themselves and doesn’t deserve help.” (Source: “An Interview with Vicky Bowman," Irrawaddy, May 2003)
With rising numbers of Burmese children being trafficked into the sex industry, children are also increasingly vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS inside Burma and abroad. The AIDS epidemic has sadly fuelled the demand for young prostitutes who are mistakenly believed to less likely be infected. 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. (For more information on child trafficking see section on child trafficking further in this chapter and for more information on HIV/AIDS see Chapter on the Situation of Health and Education)
In Shan State, it was reported that authorities began to encourage teachers to include HIV/AIDS education in their curriculums, in order to achieve their HIV/AIDS eradication campaign that is supported by international humanitarian aid. However, it is not known how much support the teaching staff is receiving to achieve this end. Moreover, the curriculum is taught in the Burmese language at government schools, making it difficult for Shan children to understand. (Source: Palaung Youth Newsletter, Issue #3, PYNG, August 2003)
6.4 Children in Prison and Labor Camps
Children in Prison
In 2003, the youngest political prisoner in Burma was born. At the end of 2002, Ma San San Maw, an NLD member, was arrested by Military Intelligence (MI) in Rangoon for complaining about the state of the economy in Burma to authorities as she stood in line for rice. She was sentenced to prison for her complaints. On 4 October 2003, she was hospitalized in Insein and gave birth on 5 October to a baby boy, who she named Aung San Oh Wei in honor of Burma’s national hero, General Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi. The day following the birth, they were sent back to Insein Prison making new born Aung San Oh Wei the youngest political prisoner in Burma. Prior to the birth of Aung San Oh Wei, the youngest political prisoner was three-year-old Ma Thein Wunna Khin. She was held by the authorities when her father, Ko Kyaw Wunna of Pegu, fled to Thailand after he was accused of distributing political pamphlets. When a mother is arrested in Burma, it is common for her young children to stay with her inside her prison cell so that she can continue to care for them. (Source: “The Youngest Political Prisoner in Burma," DVB, 14 October 2003)
Women and their children face extreme difficulties and suffer from diseases while in Burmese prisons due to the inadequate health care, unsanitary conditions and lack of nutritious food that all prisoners must endure. The Democratic Voice of Burma interviewed Daw Khin San New, who was arrested and imprisoned in 1989 while she was pregnant and later gave birth in prison, about prison conditions. Daw Khin San New reported, “After I gave birth to my baby, they didn’t give me enough water. It was very difficult to wash my baby and the nappies. If I used clean water, they beat me up. I could have used dirty bath water but I didn’t like to do it. I had to let them beat me up so that I could wash my baby. I was not allowed to dry my baby clothing for three consecutive days when the official came to visit the prison. There were TB sufferers in the prison. The children were affected badly. Babies suffered from TB and skin diseases. The food was very poor for the mothers. They only gave us small boiled eggs sometimes.” (Source: “The Youngest Political Prisoner in Burma," DVB, 14 October 2003)
Children in prison have no access to medicine, besides that provided by family members. The majority of these children suffer from malnutrition. No provisions are made for children’s development; there are no books or toys, and children’s movements are restricted to inside the cells. Upon reaching the age of five, children are taken away from their mothers and put into the care of social services if there are no relatives to take responsibility for them. Some reports indicate that children are sent to orphanages, while others are sent to military training camps and are later forced to become child soldiers (source: “The Youngest Political Prisoner in Burma," DVB, 14 October 2003). 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.
There are 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 situation in labor camps is dire, with many adults and children dying due to the extremely harsh conditions of the work environment. Long hours with no breaks while performing dangerous work, combined with inadequate food, physical abuse, exposure to infectious diseases and a total lack health care, results in an especially vulnerable position for such children. There are no figures available for the child deaths in labor camps.
If a young boy is caught trying to escape serving in the army he is given a choice; either return to the army to face further abuse, or serve time in prison, after which they will be free to leave. 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
“When the orders arrive during the harvesting season, the parents may have no alternative but to keep working in their fields if they want to have something to eat during the months that follow, so they have to send their children in their place to work for the SPDC. The same happens when the father is dead: the mother cannot leave the children at home alone, so has to send her eldest son. Sometimes orders are received to send one person per family.”
- A Shan woman exiled in Thailand explains children’s role in government forced labor. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
As the economic conditions have continued to deteriorate in Burma, and poverty has become endemic, children are often needed to work in order to raise enough income for families to survive. Other children are forced to work to simply support themselves, after being orphaned. According to 1992 UNICEF data, it has been estimated that as many as 4 million of a total 11.8 million school-age children may be working in Burma. Although the law sets a minimum age of 13 for the employment of children, in practice the law is not enforced. In addition, Burma has not ratified either the ILO Convention 138 concerning the minimum age, or Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. However, Burma has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991). Despite this, children are still frequently seen working on the streets, and begging to supplement their family income. (See section on Begging)
In a report published this year by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), researcher Samuel Grimiau explains, “In the context of the dire economic climate that prevails as a result of the military dictatorship's policy, the income of the adults alone is no longer enough for most families to live on. Within Burmese society, children have traditionally been allotted certain tasks such as helping their parents during harvests, fetching water, caring for their younger brothers and sisters, etc., but in the current context many children are deprived of any chance of attending school and are obliged to enter the employment market as of age ten. The majority give their wages to their parents.” (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
According to the ICFTU, 70% of the Burmese population lives in rural areas, and as a result it is quite common for school age children to work on their family’s farm or contribute to the family’s livelihood in some manner. Children in urban areas can be found engaged in various sectors such as food processing, street vending, refuse collecting, light manufacturing, and employed in the restaurant trade. Urban establishments regularly employ those from poorer and more rural areas who migrate to the city in search of greater prosperity. Children who accompany their families usually travel from one place to another in search of work with their parents. Consequently, many of these children have never attended primary school and lack access to both education and vocational training, as well as access to any kind of health care. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Children can also be found working as domestic servants in Burma’s towns and cities. Some of these children have been recruited by intermediaries that travel around poorer rural areas searching for pools of laborers, especially in the North. Children are also often seen on the street or at roadside stalls selling goods. Many children work along-side their parents or run the small family-business themselves on behalf of their families. While these children would ideally be in school, they are forced to bring in whatever income they can to help their families. Very young children can be found selling souvenirs and food in tourist areas. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
When parents work in factories they may ask their employers to also hire their children. Due to the lack of regulations of industries, as well as workers rights or unions, few companies take into consideration the age of those they employ, especially when they are not directly producing goods for export. The safety conditions found in many factories are deplorable. The ICFTU reported that in a Rangoon glassworks, children as young as 14 earn 300 kyat (US$0.30) per day for melting glass all day without wearing any protective gear. In that same plant, mothers who have just given birth bring their newborns with them to the factory and place them meters from furnaces to monitor them while they work. Other forms of employment that expose children to serious hazards are the construction and mining industries. As there is little government regulation, employers are free to hire children and fail to provide their employees with safe working conditions. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
While inside Burma it is uncommon to find children working in the sex-industry, young girls are sold to brokers and transported to nearby countries such as Thailand and Bangladesh to work in the sex industry. According to UNICEF’s Burma section a number of prostitutes in Rangoon claim to have begun prostituting at the age of twelve. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003) (See section on trafficking)
In addition to working to support their families, children, like adults, are often pressed into service to carry out forced labor for the military and into working in military owned industrial zones. Despite the SPDC’s pledges to stop child labor and orders banning forced labor, authorities continue to force both children and adults to work without pay on military and government projects including infrastructure development projects, income generating projects for the military, and to provide support for military operations. The U.S. Department of State reported that on 16 August, a 15-year-old student and 3 or 4 other youths disappeared from a Rangoon teashop, and are believed to have been forcibly taken by government authorities for military portering. The boy’s family has not been able to locate him and his whereabouts remain unknown. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)
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. Child porters and soldiers alike are forced to carry loads much too heavy for them while walking extremely long distances. They are commonly beaten by officers when they are unable to keep up with the physical demands placed upon them. Children are used as landmine sweeps and human shields under enemy fire. In this situation children are exposed to mistreatment, physical abuse and sexual assault. Young girls may be used as sexual slaves when forced to provide labor to the military. 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. (See section on Child Soldiers)
In many cases, when the military demands 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 a source of food and income for the family. At these times it is especially 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 limited amount of time, 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. (See chapter on forced labor for more information)
Forced Labor Involving Children - Partial List of Incidents for 2003
On 2 June 2003, SPDC troops from IB 92 based in Kaw Thay Der, Kler Lar forcibly seized 250 villagers, including men, women, and children. These villagers from Tantabin Paw Ta Tu Township in Toungoo District were forced to porter and carry food rations for the troops from Klerlar upwards to Tha Aye Hta and Wah Soe villages, where the army’s frontline camp was located. (Source: KORD, 2003)
On 9 July 2003, SPDC troops from IB 92 base in Kaw Thay Der, led by Warrant Officer Htun Wae, again forcibly collected villagers from nearby Kaw Thay Der village, in Tantabin Township of Taungoo District, and ordered them to carry military ammunition up to their front line camp at Naw Soe. This time the villagers included three female children: Naw Naw S’pyah (age 15), Na Sa Ri (age 13), and Naw Moo Paw (age 15). (Source: KORD, 2003)
6. 6 Child Soldiers
“Burma has a poor human rights record, but its record on child soldiers is the worst in the world…. To be a boy in Burma today means facing the constant risk of being picked up off the street, forced to commit atrocities against villagers, and never seeing your family again."
– Jo Becker, advocacy director of the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch (Source: Rand, Nelson, “Myanmar Child Soldiers Face Uncertain Future After Forced Conscription,” AP Worldstream, 4 May 2003)
International law prohibits the recruitment of children under the age of 15 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’s Worst Forms of Child Labor Conventions, 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.
In 2002, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) claimed that the army was comprised entirely of volunteers aged 18 and older. In May 2002, the Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the UN stated, “the Government prohibits the enlisting of recruits under the lawful age [of 18 years]. The under age are not allowed to apply for recruitment. Action is taken on any infringement of the Regulation under the Defence Services Act,” (source: Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 16 January 2004).
Despite mounting evidence, the SPDC continues to refuse to acknowledge the problem of child soldiers in their country. In response to My Gun was as Tall as Me, a report on child soldiers published by Human Rights Watch in 2002, Col. Hla Min the deputy head of the Ministry of Defense’s international affairs department said, "I am totally flabbergasted at the assertions in the Human Rights Watch report. The Myanmar Defense Forces does not recruit underage and, in fact, MDF is a voluntary army. Today, after 98 percent of all the insurgents have made peace with the government, there is not much need for recruitment as accused by certain quarters." Again, U Kyaw Tint Swe, Burma's ambassador to the United Nations, in a statement to the U.N. Security Council on 14 January 2003 said, "there is no credible evidence of the use and recruitment of children by the Myanmar armed forces." (Source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities,” Washington Post, 10 February 2003)
The law in Burma stipulates that recruiters are subject to imprisonment for up to seven years for recruiting children. In practice, the law is routinely ignored and recruiters receive incentives in the form of cash and bags of rice for every recruit—regardless of age—that they deliver to recruitment centers. Human Rights Watch has estimated that children may account for 35 to 45 per cent of new recruits into the national army, or 70,000 or more of Myanmar’s estimated 350,000 soldiers (source: CRC Briefing, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, February 2004). There is no evidence of any recruiters actually being sanctioned or punished for recruiting children. Without a credible threat of criminal or disciplinary action, many recruiters will continue to seek out children, some as young as eleven years old, who are especially targeted as they are easily intimidated by threats and lured by false promises. Children may be promised a good wage and a better life, or they may simply be threatened with prison if they refuse to join the armed forces (source: Becker, Jo, “Children as Weapons of War," World Report 2004, Human Rights Watch, January 2004).
In ‘A Gun as Tall as Me’, advocacy director for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Jo Becker, writes that Burma is the world’s single largest users of child soldiers. This accounts for approximately one-fourth of the 300,000 children currently believed to be participating in armed conflicts around the world. Since 1988, Burma has doubled the size of its army, and concurrently, the number of child recruits continues to grow. “Forced recruitment of children by government forces is so widespread that the United Nations secretary-general recently placed Burma on an international list of violators that flout international laws prohibiting the recruitment and use of children as soldiers.” (Source: Becker, Jo, “A Gun as Tall as Me," from Human Rights Watch, Asian Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2004)
In the past, Burma and its political allies have been able to persuade the UN Security Council that Burma's armed conflict is an internal matter that should not concern the Council. Yet, the Security Council has begun to reject that argument in the face of ample evidence of blatant violations against children in conflict. In 2003, the Security Council asked the Secretary-General for a progress report on governments and groups known to recruit and use child soldiers. The Security Council indicated a willingness to engage in dialogue with such parties to develop action plans to end child-soldier use. The Council also stated its intention to consider additional steps if no progress was made, including possible sanctions. Comparatively, in other countries where child-soldier use is also widespread, programs have been enacted to demobilize child soldiers and help them reintegrate into their communities. However in Burma, no such programs offering critical assistance (namely disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration or DDR) to former child soldiers exist. (Source: Becker, Jo, “A Gun as Tall as Me," from Human Rights Watch, Asian Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2004)
The Security Council’s initiative to publicly list and “name and shame” countries which use child soldiers intended to hold abusive parties responsible, and was the first time that the Council had taken such action. In an address the Council, UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan said, “By exposing those who violate standards for the protection of children to the light of public scrutiny, we are serving notice that the international community is finally willing to back expressions of concern with action.” While the actions of the Security Council will possibly foster a climate to persuade offenders to implement reform in their nations, these initiatives require systematic application, cooperation from third party governments, and follow-through to be successful. (Source: Becker, Jo, Children as Weapons of War, Human Rights Watch World Report 2004)
In April 2003, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights also adopted resolution 2003/12 which deplored continuing human rights violations in Burma, including the “systematic use of child soldiers," and called on the government to take immediate action to end the use of forced labor, including by the armed forces, (Source: Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 16 January 2004).
Child Soldiers in the Tatmadaw
“If a bad person gives an order, you have to follow it. If he says burn the village, you have to burn it. If he says kill a person, you have to do it.”
– Aung, former child soldier recruited at age 14 (Source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities," Washington Post, 10 February 2003)
“If a boy refused to eat his food, was late or missed a task, the other soldiers would often be forced to beat the victim with bamboo strips or a whip, Naing said. There were other forms of punishment, the former soldiers said, such as jumping in the sand like frogs for 10 minutes, or lying flat on the ground and staring at the sun. One boy was stripped naked, his hands and legs tied, Naing recalled. After 20 or 30 blows, his skin was bloody. An officer rubbed salt into the wounds on his back. The boy screamed in pain. Hours later, he was dead.”
(Source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities," Washington Post, 10 February 2003)
The national armed forces of Burma, or Tatmadaw, has the overwhelming majority of Burma's child soldiers serving in its ranks with an estimated 70,000 children. These children, some as young as eleven, are commonly abducted by recruiters from public places such as off the street, in train stations, ports, teashops, and even schools. In ethnic areas the Tatmadaw systematically sets quotas for the recruitment of new soldiers and porters, and prior to launching new offensives there is great pressure to increase troop numbers. Children are taken in Rangoon, as well as from Outer Burma, and are refused contact with their families, some never seeing their parents again. Soon afterwards the new recruits are sent to the front lines, usually ill-trained and ill-equipped. Sometimes even amphetamines are reportedly fed to these children to make them more aggressive and willing to fight. (Source: Nichols, Hans, “Real Guns for Burma's Lost Boys," The Times (London), 3 January 2003)
Under the control of the Tatmadaw, these children experience frequent beatings, systematic humiliation during training, are cheated of their wages, and are forced to participate in armed conflict and human rights abuses against civilians. Children fight, carry weapons, lay and clear landmines, and suffer as slaves and porters for army troops- all of which may have serious and deadly consequences. They endure a harsh and isolated existence, and have no means of escape. Children suspected of desertion are subjected to physical abuse and beatings, long prison terms, forced re-recruitment, and in some cases summary execution. (Source: Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 16 January 2004)
Nay, currently a refugee in Thailand and forcibly conscripted at age 13, reported his own experiences. "The officers used to beat us for all sorts of reasons, especially when they'd been drinking. We were paid next to nothing, they refused to let us contact our parents and we had to mistreat villagers, impose forced labor on them and beat them if they were not efficient enough. Then, during the night in the barracks I could sometimes hear the cries of someone or other being tortured. There were sometimes battles with ethnic armies; I was terrified. I still have nightmares about it now, I see the images over and over again, and hear the sounds of all the horrors." (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
Human Rights Watch reported a story of a boy recruited at age 13 while attending a festival with friends. He indicated that recruiters threatened him and his friends with jail time if they refused to join the army. He said, "We were all students so we showed our student cards, but they tore them up. Then he [a corporal] threatened us and showed us his gun. We were afraid, so we agreed. We didn't dare try to run away." (Source: Becker, Jo, “A Gun as Tall as Me," from Human Rights Watch, Asian Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2004)
Child soldiers are forced to follow officers' orders to commit human-rights abuses against civilians, including rounding up villagers for forced labor, burning villages, rape, and carrying out executions. One 14-year-old boy described witnessing his unit massacre a group of 15 women and children during operations against ethnic Shan in Shan State. He said that the soldiers blindfolded the women, "then six of the corporals loaded their guns and shot them. They fired on auto. The women had no time to shout. I felt very bad because there were all these people in front of me, and they killed them all. After the mothers were killed they killed the babies. They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock." (Source: Becker, Jo, “A Gun as Tall as Me," from Human Rights Watch, Asian Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2004).
Following Human Rights Watch’s 2002 publication, My Gun was as Tall as Me: Child Soldiers in Burma, several ex-child soldiers along the Thai-Burma border were interviewed in 2003 by various journalists. One 14-year-old boy named Kyaw Zay Ya was interviewed by journalist Ellen Nakashima. The interview revealed, “He was taught how to hold an assault rifle and aim it at an enemy. He was taught how to pull a trigger, aim at the next enemy and pull the trigger again. He learned all this, he says, by the time he was 12, when he was officially declared a soldier of Burma and sent to the front lines of a long-running civil war.” Kyaw was “press-ganged into the army at age 11, took part in combat repeatedly and felt afraid and very far from home." (Source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities," Washington Post, 10 February 2003)
Another boy interviewed by journalist Ellen Nakashima following Human Rights Watch’s report, Naing Win, was forcibly recruited at age 15 after being stopped by authorities without an identification card in a train station in Mandalay and told he could join the army or go to prison. He reported that by age 16 he was ordered to fight on the frontlines and forced to take amphetamines with whiskey by his commander. He reported that during one clash, he was ordered to throw grenades at the enemy but was so high on amphetamines, that he was throwing stones. In addition, he indicated that he forgot to remove the pin from one grenade before he threw it and was ordered to retrieve it and do it again. Following a battle with ethnic Karenni rebels, which his unit won, he reported that his commander ordered 40 villagers to be human mine sweepers causing many to die or lose limbs because of the explosions. He also reported witnessing the rape of Karenni women and was told by a general “that raping women serves ‘to give the soldiers energy’.” (Source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities," Washington Post, 10 February 2003)
While some boys have been taken off the street, others have gone through extensive military training government-run schools for children. The Ye Nyunt (Brave Sprouts) Youth program is a network of military training camps for children based at army camps. Children who graduate from such schools are likely to join the military upon completion of their studies. Human Rights Watch reported Ye Nyunt camps in at least five locations in Shan State, as well as additional camps in Kayah and Chin States, and Rangoon and Tenasserim divisions. Witnesses have reported children as young as four-years-old at such camps receiving schooling as well as military training. The majority of the children enrolled in this program are orphans or street beggars, and therefore especially vulnerable to recruitment with no one else to care for them (source: CRC Briefing, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, February 2004). Some children attending these youth military training camps are also reportedly sent to the frontlines before they reach the age of 18. One former attendee of the youth military training camps reported that he was taken at age 14 along with all of the boys in his camp who were over the age of 13. They were subsequently trained to be soldiers and sent to battle (source: Nakashima, Ellen, “Burma's Child Soldiers Tell of Army Atrocities," Washington Post, 10 February 2003).
While many child soldiers eventually find life in the army unbearable and try and escape, those who succeed have few options. Many child soldiers see no future for themselves and develop very negative self-images. Former child soldiers can suffer from anxiety, grief, and depression. Flashbacks, nightmares, and learning difficulties are also often reported. Afraid to return home, many end up working illegally in neighboring countries, or join opposition groups to fight against their former captors.
Child Soldiers in Ethnic Armed Resistance Groups
Children are also present in Burma's armed opposition groups, although child recruitment has declined in recent years as many opposition groups have shrunk in size and resources. It is estimated that there are just over 6,700 child soldiers in the combined armed opposition groups. Sensitive to world opinion, many groups have been prompted to make public commitments to end the use of child soldiers and are responding positively to international pressure. Yet, the reality of the situation of ethnic groups makes the issue much more complex. Unlike the Tatmadaw, most ethnic armies do not forcibly conscript child soldiers. Yet many children who have experienced grave injustices at the hands of the Tatmadaw and have lost their families and homes due to on-going armed conflict willingly try to join the ‘rebel’ armies. As a means of self-defense and self-determination, many of these ethnic groups train children to be the new generation for their revolutionary forces and its future leaders. While progress has been made, many of these armed groups lack the political will or resources to actually demobilize child soldiers from their ranks. Even if children are demobilized in such armies they have little or no other educational opportunities, and sometimes the army may be the only ‘family’ the children know.
A Karrenni Army general told Human Rights Watch, “We have some ideas for projects for some of our young boys in the army, but we can’t get any support from outside organizations . . . No resources means no skills . . . The only option for child soldiers is if we can have a special school for them, not only for reading and writing but also for vocational skills like carpentry or auto mechanics. We can’t send fourteen and fifteen-year-olds to ordinary kindergarten. The most important thing for these young people is education.” (Source: Becker, Jo, “Children as Weapons of War," World Report 2004, Human Rights Watch, January 2004)
In January 2003, the London Times, reported an interview, conducted by journalist Hans Nicholas, of a 13-year-old Karen boy who had joined the armed wing of the KNU in June 2002. The boy, Saw Yo Ba, reportedly joined “for the same reasons that child soldiers join militias the world over: a place to belong, a chance for revenge, a thing to do.” Yo Ba reported that his father had been shot and killed in the family’s ancestral village while his mother’s body had been found mangled in a field when he was 11 years old. Both were killed by the Tatmadaw. In his unit of the KNU armed wing, Yo Ba reported being looked after and fed three meals each day. Unlike child soldiers in the Tatmadaw, he did not report being forced into combat or to commit human rights abuses against villagers and he is able to leave at any time. Yet, because he lacks a family and home to go to, he has few options. (Source: Nichols, Hans, “Real Guns for Burma's Lost Boys," The Times (London), 3 January 2003)
Forced Conscription of Children in Militias
Since the Depayin Massacre on 30 May 2003, otherwise known as “Black Friday," when Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD representatives and supporters were attacked by a government organized mob, the Burmese regime has intensified military buildup nationwide. This buildup includes the widespread forced recruitment of villagers for military training and forced membership in militias, such as the newly created Pyithusit (People’s Militia). Children have also reportedly been forcibly taken for recruitment in militias. (For more information about forced military training, see chapter on forced labor.)
In Shan State, refugees have reported, that since June 2003, the SPDC has forced each village tract to provide 1,000 male recruits between the ages of 16 - 50 years of age for up to two months of military training. The recruits are not only forced to join the militia groups, but they must also accompany SPDC troops on patrol and wear uniforms. This demand by the government for able-bodied men has taken a hard economic toll on agricultural communities. In some villages so many men have been forcibly conscripted that families have no male members to tend to their fields and have suffered a loss of crops. (Source: Under Pressure, ALTSEAN, July - September 2003)
On 3 July, military training commenced for people in Chan Aye Tha Zan, Aung Myae Tha Zan, Ma Ha Aung Myae, Pyi gi Tha Kon and Pa Thein Kyi Townships, in Mandalay Division. USDA members and battalions from the Central Military Headquarters organized the training. Approximately 30 people attended each training session. The training lasted about 1 month. Each month there was a training and they would continue to have monthly trainings as long as was needed. The authorities reportedly held some trainings in high schools for the students. The students had to participate. (Source: HRDU, 14 August 2003)
On 5 July, Col. Soe Thein based in Nakawngmu village, Mongton Township ordered all young boys above the age of 15 living in the area to join the militia. In order to gain 2,000 new recruits in the militia, both young boys and girls were forced to join. Col. Soe Thein claimed these youth would be protecting their Township and country from foreign attack. A Palaung village headman reported that the villagers were upset about such forced conscription and do not want any involvement in arms. Instead, the villagers simply want to be able to tend to their crops. (Source: Palaung Youth Newsletter Issue #3, PYNG, August 2003)
Conscription of Child Soldiers – Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Boy kidnapped by army while walking home
In March 2003, a 16-year-old boy named Kyaw, deserted from the Burmese Army. In October 2002, Kyaw, who was a 9th grade student in the southeastern town of Thongwa, had been walking home from school with friends when a car pulled up alongside him. Military men jumped out of the car and grabbed him and 4 of his classmates. The 16-year old was then forced to join the military. After only 1 month of training in Thongwa, he was sent to the frontlines. Kyaw said many of the soldiers he served with were under 17-years of age. In fact, 20 of the 50 soldiers in his section and 70 of the 150 in his battalion (IB 343) were minors. The youngest was only 11.
While in the army he experienced harsh treatment and was punished by the officer in charge of his section when he could not carry heavy loads. Kyaw told an AP reporter, "He beat me, slapped me, kicked me and whipped me with a stick." Kyaw had no real skills to deal with jungle guerilla warfare. "I knew if I stayed there I would die," he said. So, on 11 March 2003, Kyaw fled from his post in the Tojo Mountains, a few miles from the Thai border, and was captured by Karen rebels who then held him in captivity at their own military camp. After interrogation by the KNU, Kyaw was released and sent across the border into Thailand to find work illegally as a migrant laborer. After 6 months in the military Kyaw said, “I just want to go home and see my mother and father.” (Source: “Myanmar Child Soldiers Face Uncertain Future After Forced Conscription,” AP Worldstream, 4 May 2003)
Mong Ton Township
On 5 July 2003, Col. Soe Thein based in Nakawngmu village, Mongton Township ordered all young boys above the age of 15 living in the area to join the militia. In order to gain 2,000 new recruits in the militia, both young boys and girls were forced to join. Col. Soe Thein claimed these youth would be protecting their Township and country from foreign attack. A Palaung village headman reported that the villagers were upset about such forced conscription and do not want any involvement in arms. Instead, the villagers simply want to be able to tend to their crops. (Source: Palaung Youth Newsletter, Issue #3, PYNG, August 2003)
Deserters tell of torture
On 24 and 26 November 2003, 28 child soldiers fled from their conscription. Two of the deserters from the Burmese military told Radio Free Asia in an interview that the military regularly forces children into service, beats them and prevents them from contacting their families. Cpl. Than Naing said that the military seizes young boys, between 13 and 14-years of age, as they leave school. Both he and his friend Yan Paing Soe had been kidnapped in this way and forcibly conscripted while minors. While some parents were lucky enough to find their children and pay for their release, it took seven years for Than Naing to find his family. Once in the army the boys were poorly fed and forced to do the labor of grown men. Yan Paing Soe told Radio Free Asia, "It was as if they were torturing the soldiers." Both Than Naing and Yan Paing Soe were able to escape, along with 26 other soldiers, and defected to the opposition Shan State Army on 24 and 26 November 2003, after killing their commanding officers. (Source: “Myanmar Army ‘Tortures' Child Recruits," United Press International, 16 December 2003)
Children lured into Burmese Army with money
In July 2003, three young illiterate villagers, all minors, were enticed into joining the army with promises of money in Arakan State. Maung Shwe Sein (age 16), Maung Thein Win (age 17), and Maung Pru Thein (age 16), were all from Kring-chhaung village in Buthidaung Township, close to the Bangladesh border. According to a relative, each of the new recruits’ parents were given 20,000 kyat (US$20) for their children on 15 July 2003. For some time the Burmese Army has been offering money to parents in order to attract new recruits in the area. (Source: “Luring Villagers into Burmese Army,” Narinjara, 31 July 2003)
Fifteen-year old child soldier returned home blinded
On 22 January 2003, the Democratic Voice of Burma broadcasted the story of Maung Aung Myo Thant, a 15-year-old from Sipintha Ward, Yenangchaung, in central Burma. Soldiers kidnapped Maung Aung Myo Thant in July 2002 at the Zawbwagyi Kone Bus Station as he was on his way home from work in Rangoon. He was then locked up in a room for 2 days at the family quarters of Danyin Kone Soldier Recruitment Camp. He was later transferred to Taungdwinggyi Soldiers Training School, led by Colonel Thein Lwin, where he attended basic military training. When he became ill, he was given the wrong injection and was blinded as a result. An army officer returned him to his home in Yenangyaung on 3 December, where the local people took him to see an eye specialist in Minbu in order to repair the damage. Unfortunately it was too late.
This was not an isolated incident. The Democratic Voice of Burma also reported in the same broadcast that another 15 year-old from Yenangyang, Maung Kyaw Thet Lwin, was forced to join the army in December 2002. He was taken for training to Phaunggyi Training School. His parents did not find out about his whereabouts until January 2003, and have not been allowed to see him. (Source: “Forced Soldier Returned Home, Blind,” DVB, 22 January 2003)
Kidnapped child soldier tells of abuse at the hands of the army
In August 2003, authorities kidnapped a 14-year old boy while on his way home from his private tuition class. Yan Naing, an ex-pupil of No.3 State High School in Hlaingthaya Township of Rangoon. While he was hitchhiking home, as it was quickly getting dark, a patrol car stopped and picked him up. Yan Naing explains, “I didn’t have my student card with me. I was unable to do anything to prove my identity. They gave me two options: to join the army or to go to jail. I said that I didn’t want to go to jail as it is not good for my reputation and I had to join the army.” Yan Naing was first sent to Mingaladon Recruiting Camp and later to training camp No.9 of the Basic Military Training Corp., where he received 4 ½ months training. After completing training he joined LIB 343, based at Ye in Tenesserim Division, southern Burma. He spent one week there and was included in military operations on the front line. Yan Naing reported that child soldiers made up one third of his regiment. The children had either run away from their homes and ended up in the army or had been abducted while running errands for their parents or coming home from tuition classes.
Yan Naing related the conditions that child soldiers experience. “I have not only seen how they brutalized child soldiers who tried to run away, I myself took part in it. The reason is – when someone was caught trying to flee from the training school, all the trainees had to punch the ‘culprit’ once. There were 250 trainees. It was impossible for the victim to bear. I saw this with my own eyes at the training school. His eyebrows were broken, teeth broken, cheeks broken. They asked me to punch him and when I refused I was brutalized myself. If someone punched the victim very softly, they told the person, ‘not like this, punch him like this’ and punched the person.”
Later Yan Naing later managed to escape from his post while his regiment LIB 343 was sitting on Bayintnaung Hill, Walakhee District of Karen State. He fled to a KNU controlled area. (Source: “Burmese Child Soldier’s Interview,“ DVB, 19 March 2003)
SPDC abducts and forces military enlistment of 16-year old
On 12 September 2003, the SPDC abducted Naing Lin Aung (age 16), from Hlaingthaya Township and forcibly placed him in military basic training.
Naing Lin Aung was visiting his grandmother in Rangoon when he was taken by authorities, whom then confiscated his watch, clothing, and money, and sent him to Basic Training School No. 3, in Ya Myi Thin Township, Mandalay Division. He was assigned to First Company as soldier no. 192.
Naing Lin Aung's father, U Soe Naing, was not informed of his son's forced conscription. When Naing Lin Aung did not return home his father made inquiries to the police, hospitals, and local officials. On 16 September, U Soe Naing discovered that his son would be sent to Insein-Da Nyin Kone Soldier Collection Point. U Soe Ning was finally able to see his son at the Army Basic Training School No. 3. The basic training course ended on 30 January 2004. (Source: Yoma 3, 2003)
15-year-old abducted at train station by army
On 17 September 2003, Mg Khin Maung Than, the 15-year old son of U Khin Maung and student at Hlaingthaya High School No. 2 disappeared in Hlaingthaya Township.
After leaving school, Mg Khin Maung Than realized that he had forgotten his umbrella at school and returned to retrieve it. On the way back to his house, while at the Mekwat market, 2 people abducted him into a sidecar and sent him to the Danyingon military collection camp. He then attended military training in Pyinmanar District, Yeni Township, (La Ka Ya /5). His official date of entry into the army was 24 September 2003, session 7/2004, and his I.D. No was (Tha/288985).
U Khin Maung was searching for his son since the day he disappeared. He had to spend 150,000 kyat at the Mingaladon Record Office, in order to find out about the whereabouts of his son. After discovering that his son was in Pyinmanar district at the Yeni Township training school, he went to visit him. At their meeting, the son explained to his father through tears how he had been arrested and begged his father to take him home. The boy’s military training finished on 20 February 2003.
On 27 January 2004, U Khin Maung went to the ILO office in Rangoon in order to ask for the release of his son from the army. The ILO planned to meet with SPDC leaders on 29 January 2004 to discuss the issue of child soldiers. According to U Khin Maung’s relatives, the SPDC was giving money to their army so that they could continue to collect child recruits. (Source: Yoma3, 2004)
Child soldier refuses to return home out of fear for his life
In May 2003, the Human Rights Forum of Monland reported the story of a 16-year-old orphan child soldier from the Burmese Army who, after being deported by Thai authorities at Three Pagoda Pass, refused to return home out of fear that if rearrested he would be killed by his commander. The boy, from Pyin-wa village in Delta area of Irrawaddy Division, Soe Min, had fled from Burmese Army’s Infantry Battalion No. 101 based Mergui District in Tenasserim Division, in the southernmost part of Burma. While in his battalion, he had been detained and seriously tortured by Major Soe Naing after complaining about the lack of adequate food. Once on the frontlines, he fled into Thailand. Later he was arrested by Thai police, imprisoned for 1 week for illegal migration, and deported back to the border with other Burmese migrant workers. When asked why he was so afraid to return, he replied that execution was the standard punishment for soldiers arrested after desertion from the frontlines.
After the boy’s parents died, he had lived with an uncle until Recruitment Battalion No. 93 convinced him to join the army. There were about 16 children in his group of 40 new recruits given basic military training in Thanton town of Mon State. He attended military training school for 4 months, stayed at his battalion base for 1 week and was then sent for 6 months to the front-line in offensives targeted against ethnic rebels. Although the commanders in his battalion said his salary was 4500 kyat per month and that he would receive 5000 kyat per month for time spent on frontline, he actually received 500-800 kyat per month. His commanding officer, Major Soe Naing took most of his and the other new recruit soldiers’ salaries. (Source: HURFOM, 31 May 2003)
6. 7 Child Trafficking
The SPDC has continued to make claims that it is fighting human trafficking, announcing the arrest of 417 human traffickers between July 2002 and 21 August 2003. In July 2002, a Working Committee for Prevention against Trafficking in persons was established. The SPDC has further declared that 82,251 citizens have been educated about the issue of human trafficking. (Source: Under Pressure, ALTSEAN, July - September 2003)
However, there is ample evidence documenting the contrary. In September 2003, the U.S. Department of State reported that Burma is one of 15 countries to be placed on Tier 3, the lowest of US government standards, for its failure to comply with the minimum standards of 2000’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The US government condemned the Burmese government in its failure in the “elimination of trafficking, and failure to make significant efforts to do so.” (Source: “Progress in the Fight against Trafficking in Persons," U.S. Department of State Press Statement, 10 September 2003)
There is no law in Burma that specifically prohibits the trafficking of persons, although the Penal Code prohibits kidnapping and the Suppression of Prostitution Act and the Child Law include provisions against the sale, abuse or exploitation of children. However, these laws are not effectively enforced. In more recent years, the government has made it difficult for single females to obtain passports and there are regulations preventing girls under the age of 25 from crossing the border without a guardian accompanying them. The fact that the majority of women and girls lured or forced across borders do so without passports makes this regulation totally ineffectual in the prevention of trafficking. At the same time, there is reported widespread complicity among local government officials. Yet, there have been no known arrests or prosecutions of complicit officials. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)
Girls and boys in Burma are trafficked most commonly to Thailand, but also to China, India, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and countries in the Middle East for sexual exploitation, factory labor, construction labor, and to work as household servants. It has been reported that in Bangladesh Burmese girls are openly sold as concubines in public markets (source: Varner, Lynne K., “Myanmar's Campaign against Women and Children,” Seattle Times, 19 March 2003). Internal trafficking also occurs from poor agricultural areas to more urban areas where prostitution flourishes, such as trucking routes, mining areas, and military bases. Most observers estimate the number of trafficked victims to be at least several thousand per year. Yet, the SPDC’s unwillingness to make their own estimates, their pervasive security controls, restrictions on the flow of information, and lack of transparency make it impossible to obtain any definite figures. The government also refused any independent assessment of their efforts to combat trafficking.
The Sex Industry
The U.S. Department of State reported in 2003, “Child prostitution and trafficking in girls for the purpose of prostitution--especially Shan girls who were sent or lured to Thailand--continued to be a major problem. In Rangoon and Mandalay, diplomatic representatives noted widespread employment of female prostitutes who appeared to be in their early teens and for whom there was reportedly a high demand. Additionally, some brothels offered young teenage ‘virgins’ to their customers for a substantial additional fee.” (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)
Young Burmese women, some under 18 years-old, either fell prey to lying agents or are lured by acquaintances across the border into Thailand. As the standards of living have risen in Thailand, the thriving sex industry now recruits girls from poorer neighboring countries. A UN report estimated 300,000-400,000 children in the region were victims of trafficking, mainly for the sex industry. It is estimated that up to a quarter of sex workers in Thailand are under 18 years-old (source: “Too Many East Asian States Fail their Children, UN Report Says," AFP, 5 May 2003). Those suffering from personal problems are especially easy victims. Some trafficked Burmese become 'rental' wives of local men before being forced later into prostitution. The rise in HIV infection rates in Thailand has created a greater demand for young ‘virgins’ from Burma, who are believed to be disease free. These girls, as young as 12 or 13, may be repeatedly sold as virgins because they fetch a higher price. These girls are at high risk of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexual diseases because they lack education, ability to negotiate condom use with their clients, and access to health services, while often forced to serve up to 10 customers a day (source: “Too Many East Asian States Fail their Children, UN Report Says," AFP, 5 May 2003).
Dr Nwe Nwe Aye, regional cross border project coordinator of the Save the Children, an international NGO, indicated that while some migrant children might not engage in sex work from the beginning, they may get involved later as a result of indirect pressure from brothel owners. She indicated, “Owners pay less for girls who are housemaids and give them limited freedom in contrast to the girls who sell sex….The girls later voluntarily become sex workers in order to earn a higher income.” She also noted that the majority of trafficked children from Burma were uneducated ethnic minorities. (Source: “‘Shattered Dreams’ to Educate Migrants," The Nation [Bangkok], 12 November 2003)
Burmese children living either in the regions close to Thailand, or in Thailand itself, run the risk of being trafficked into Thailand's major cities where they are forced to beg in the streets. In some cases, their parents receive a sum of money (anywhere between US$25-50) in exchange for selling their children to brokers. In other cases, children who are already vulnerable due to their life circumstances (such as orphans, street children, or having divorced parents) are promised a better life by brokers if they go to Bangkok. A researcher for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) explained, “The desire to discover new horizons and, above all, a large city such as the Thai capital, helps the intermediaries to convince the children to go with them. On arrival, they are sold to people who force them to beg. The children often have to walk the hundreds of kilometers between the Burmese border and Bangkok, off the beaten track, to avoid police controls.” (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
According to the ICFTU, while a child begging in Bangkok may potentially earn up to US$80 a day by begging, their ‘owners’ receive the profits and may not take adequate care of the children. Most child beggars live in dirty overcrowded conditions, with many other children. They are provided little food, and often no medicine or treatment when they are ill. These children have no opportunity to obtain an education, and are at an increased risk of becoming drug users. Children are also regularly beaten if they do not earn sufficient money and have little or no contact with their families. (Source: Grumiau, Samuel, “Growing Up Under the Burmese Dictatorship,” International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, August 2003)
6. 8 Children in Armed Conflict
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 and protection; 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 into homes, regardless of whether there are children present. Children of internally displaced people, or IDPs, who’s total numbers are estimated at between 600,000 to 1 million, and are forced ‘to live on the run’ are particularly vulnerable to such violence.
Even when a child is not a direct target of violence, children living in areas of armed conflict are subjected to numerous hardships. Family, community and cultural life in these areas is continually disrupted by violence and insecurity. Children witness killing and violence directed against their own family, neighbors and community members. The emotional and mental toll that this will take over a lifetime is incalculable. These children are denied the right to grow up in an environment that nurtures and promotes their development.
Violence against Children – Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Ten-year-old orphan seriously injured in crossfire
On 2 January 2003, after fighting had broken out between a Mon rebel group, led by Nai Sok Klein, and IB 61 of the Burmese Army, led by Captain Tin Aung Khaing, a mortar shell hit a 10-year-old Mon boy in Hangan village, in the southern part of Ye Township, Mon State. Roughly 20 mortar shells were issued from both sides, and a house was also completely destroyed. The 10-year-old orphan had come to the village of Hangan, from his neighboring village, in order to purchase rice in the market. He was seriously injured by the stray mortar shell, and subsequently taken to Moulmein Hospital, in the capital of Mon State, where he had his left hand and leg amputated. As a result of the ongoing fighting in the area, local people face serious human rights violations committed against them by the Burmese Army, but are also forced to pay taxes to armed groups on both sides. (Source: HURFOM, No.1/ 2003, 31 January 2003)
Eight-year-old boy murdered by government troops
On 1 April 2003, an 8-year-old son of displaced farmers was shot dead by a patrol of SPDC troops from IB 246 at a remote opium farm in Kun-Hing Township, Shan State. The boy, Zaai Kaw, was originally from Long Maw village, but had been forcibly relocated to the outskirts of Kun-Hing Town in 1996 by government troops. In late 2002, SPDC troops in Kun-Hing Township provided opium seeds and encouraged displaced farmers to grow opium. About 25 of the displaced farmers, who could hardly earn enough to feed their families, decided to give it a try.
At the time of the incident the 8-year-old boy was alone in a hut at the relocated village of Long Maw, as his parents were off a mile away with other farmers tending to their opium fields. A patrol of SPDC troops from IB 246 searched the village for what they said were Shan rebels. When they found the boy, the SPDC troops shot him dead. The boy’s body was found 30 yards from the hut in which his parents had left him. All of the rice and other foodstuffs from the hut had been stolen. Later some SPDC troops related to villagers that they had raided an opium farm and a deserted village named Long Maw, in which Shan rebels were hiding. They said all the adults had fled, but had left 1 son there, which the troops had shot dead.
After the incident, the farmers were reluctant to go tend their opium farms for fear of being shot at, which negatively affected the yield of the opium. The opium seeds were provided by SPDC troops on a condition that each farmer sell 3 viss of opium sap at the market rate after the harvest. In mid-April 2003, when Capt. Soe Win Maung from Column 1 of the SPDC’s IB 246 gathered the opium farmers to collect the opium, only some of the said 25 opium farmers could barely meet the quota. Others had to buy opium from elsewhere in order to fill their quota at the rate of 50,000 kyat per viss, and later sold it back to the SPDC troops at the rate of 20,000 kyat per viss. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2003)
Two boys, 11 and 13, shot dead by government troops
In February 2003, 2 children were shot dead by SPDC troops as they were riding in an ox-cart with their mother near Mark Kawk village in Paang Saang village tract, Lai-hka Township, Shan State. Two farming families had been staying in 2 separate farm huts some distance from their village, in order to work their fields. When a patrol of SPDC troops from Nam-Zarng-base IB 66 saw them, they accused the farmers of being members of the Shan resistance. The farmers explained that they were not members of the Shan resistance but ordinary villagers from Mark Kawk village, and that they had come to stay for a few days and work at their farms because it took too much time to travel back and forth each day. The SPDC troops ordered the farmers to return to their village at once, and the farmers only had time to take what their ox-carts could carry and hurried back to their village. The troops then took what they wanted from the 2 huts and burnt them to the ground. They also stole 2 oxen that the farmers had left grazing in a nearby meadow.
Some days later, 1 of the farmers, Pa Nung, and her 2 sons drove their ox-cart in order to look for whatever was left at their farm. But as they approached the farm, some SPDC troops who were guarding the road shot at them. Pa Nung’s 2 sons were hit and died on the ox-cart, but Pa Nung jumped down and escaped back to their village. Her sons, Zaai Kam, aged 13 and Zaai Pawk, aged 11, were hit in the head and in the chest respectively. The SPDC troops also stole the 2 cart-oxen left behind. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, November 2003)
Thirteen-year old robbed of his possessions
On 5 May 2003, a 13-year-old boy from Wan Kong village in Wan Kong village tract, Murng-Yarng Township, was robbed of his chickens by a group of SPDC troops from LIB 328 while he was on his way to sell them at the market in Murng-Yarng town. Early in the morning the boy, Zaai Taan, was given 5 chickens by his parents in order to sell them and sent along with 6 or 7 other villagers who were going to market. Their village, Wan Kong, was about 6 miles from the town. When they had gone about 3-1/2 miles, they were stopped by a group of SPDC soldiers. The SPDC soldiers, from LIB 328, searched them and the goods that they were bringing to market. The soldiers took some vegetables from each of the other villagers and took 3 of the boy’s chickens. Zaai Taan later sold his remaining 2 chickens, both hens, for 5,000 kyat at the market. The other 3 chickens, which had all been cocks, would have fetched him an additional 9,000 kyat, as the cock’s market price was 3,000 kyat a-piece. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, November 2003)
Nam Zarng Township
Displaced villagers robbed of their belongings and 8-year old boy detained for 2 days and 1 night
In July 2003, displaced villagers who had returned to their former village in order to temporarily stay and work were robbed of their belongings, and an 8-year-old boy was taken away for a period of 2 days for questioning by SPDC troops from Military Operation Management Command No.21 based at Kho Lam village, Nam Zarng Township, Shan State. The villagers included:
(1) Lung Ti, male, age 40, lost 2 warm jackets, 3 pairs of shoes and 11,900 kyat;
(2) Lung Wa-Ling, male, age 43, lost 3 warm jackets, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of trousers and 9,600 kyat;
(3) Lung Zaam Pee, male, age 46, lost 2 warm jackets, 2 pairs of shoes and 18,600 kyat; and
(4) Lung Keng, male, age 49, lost 2 pairs of shoes, 6 kilograms of seasoning powder, 2 tins of cooking oil and 45,000 kyat.
The villagers were originally from Kung Sim village in Wan Hai village tract, Nam-Zarng Township, which had been forcibly relocated to the Kho Lam village relocation site in 1997 by the then SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) troops. These villagers had been given permission by local SPDC troops to go back and farm their land at their former village during the rice-cultivating season. However, a patrol of the above-mentioned SPDC troops came and robbed them of their belongings and took away an 8-year-old boy for 2 days and 1 night, during which they questioned the child about Shan soldiers and the activities of the farmers, before returning him to the Kho Lam village relocation site. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, February 2004)
One adult and one child IDP murdered by soldiers
On 19 September 2003, 20 soldiers from SPDC unit number IB 224, led by Maj. Tun Tun, entered Maw Kee IDP site, in the Manorone area in the east of Mergui, in Tenasserim Division. One child and one adult were shot dead when the military opened fire into the IDP site. The military also captured 3 families, consisting of a total of 12 people, and sent them to Manorone forced relocation camp. (Source: Monthly Human Rights Situation Report: Tenasserim Division, Mergui-Tavoy District Information Department, KNU, September 2003)
6.9 Sexual Assault against Children
Throughout 2003, incidents of rape of both young women and girls continued to be reported, particularly in ethnic areas. In May 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) released a report entitled License to Rape, which documented widespread and systematic rape of at least 625 girls and women in Shan State by Burmese soldiers. Not only were the women and girls raped, some were tortured over a period of months or gang raped. One fourth of the rapes ended in murder. The youngest rape victim whose case was included in the report was a five-year old girl. (Source: Varner, Lynne K., “Myanmar's Campaign Against Women and Children” Seattle Times, 19 March 2003)
In April 2003, Refugees International released a report, No Safe Place, independently confirming License to Rape and provided further evidence that larger numbers of women and girls from other ethnic minority groups are also targeted and raped by SPDC soldiers. Most recently an April 2004 report published by the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) documented recent, widespread abuses against Karen women and girls by the Burmese army. The new report entitled Shattering Silences documented 125 cases of rape perpetrated by soldiers over the period of eighteen months. This report demonstrated that the Burmese military is clearly targeting women and girls from a multitude of ethnic minority groups for rape in order to terrorize the population and communities at large. (For more information see the chapter on women.)
Despite the overwhelming evidence, which has been continually reported, the SPDC has continually denied the occurrence of rape. Moreover, the authorities have been reported to actively take measures to prevent information about the pervasive human rights abuses perpetrated in ethnic minority areas from being revealed. The efforts have ranged from forcing villagers to sign affidavits indicating that rapes did not occur and conducting trainings to instruct villagers how to lie to international monitoring institutions about the situation of human rights (for more information see chapter on freedom of expression). 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. While several cases from 2003 are recorded here, it is important to note that the vast majority of rape cases go unreported and undocumented.
Sexual Assault Against Children – Partial List of Incidents for 2003
Seventeen-year old girl raped and murdered
On 6 August 2003, combined DKBA troops from Central Security, led by Moe Kyo, and troops from No.555, led by Pah Daw Bo, came into Htee Kli Tha village and shot and arrested a villager. The 46-year-old resident of Si Paht Day Kee village, Saw Ta Ku Ku, was wounded by both small and heavy guns (RPG-7). Then Moe Kyo raped and killed the man’s 17-year old daughter, Naw Mu Kut. Finally the troops burned down Saw Ta Ku Ku’s hut containing 8 baskets of paddy, and looted another 10 baskets of rice as well as all of his pigs and chickens. Saw Ta Ku Ku has not been released since being arrested. The KNU reports that this was the first time rape was committed by DKBA troops in Pa-an District. (Source: Department of Information, KNU, 2003)
Follow-up of 4-year-old child’s rape
In 2003, it was reported that the government had taken some action against one rape case that had been reported to officials in August 2002. An army captain had reportedly raped a 4-year old child in Yusomoso, a mainly Catholic village in Timoso Township in Kayah State. Villagers were apparently offered 20,000 kyat (approximately US$20) by military authorities to drop the case. In early 2003, after pressure from religious leaders, the government arrested the accused captain and relieved his battalion commander of his post. While it may be considered as some progress, local army officers warned village leaders to report any future problems to the military, and not to their church. (Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2004)
Christian student raped at checkpoint while on her way to school
On 15 January a Christian Lahu student was raped while bicycling to school. The girl had left her home early in the morning to attend school. When she arrived at the Mine Pyin Check point, a soldier of the Burmese Army Unit Mine Pyin Riflemen, named Myit Naing, raped her in the tent at the gate. The girl, a 10th standard high school student, was unable to continue her schooling after the incident, as she is unable to sit for the 10th standard exam. (Source: Free Burma Rangers, June 2003)
15-year-old Lahu girl raped and murdered
On 5 February 2003, when a 15-year-old girl's mother and brother left their home in order to tend to their fields, soldiers from the Burmese Army Unit Mine Pyin came to her home in Mine Pyin, Lah Hu village and raped her. Twenty Burmese soldiers had come to her village that day and later left in the evening.
When the girl’s mother and brother returned home they did not see her. The Christian Lahu family later found the girl’s dead body inside their barn. She had been raped and murdered by the visiting Burma Army troops. (Source: Free Burma Rangers, June 2003)
Mong Ton Township
Fourteen-year-old girl raped by captain
On 5 January 2003, a 14-year-old student was raped by an SPDC soldier, Capt. Thin Za Ong, from LIB 360 in her house at Pung Pa Khem village, Pung Pa Khem village tract, Murng-Ton Township. On the morning of the incident, Naang Kham Non (not her real name), was alone in her house preparing for school after her parents had left to work on their farm. As Naang Kham Non was changing her clothes after eating her morning meal, Capt. Thin Za Ong entered her home, dragged her into an inner room and raped her.
When Naang Kham Non failed to arrive at school by 9:00 am, a teacher came to look for her at her house, which was not far from the school. As the teacher entered the house, she witnessed Capt. Thin Za Ong raping Naang Kham Non and shouted at the captain. The teacher then went and reported the incident to the village tract leader, U Khin Maung Lat. When questioned by the village tract leader, Capt. Thin Za Ong confessed his crime and offered to pay compensation. He also requested that the leader and teacher not report the crime to his superiors. Capt. Thin Za Ong paid compensation totaling 300,000 kyat - 50,000 kyat to the village tract leader, 50,000 kyat to the teacher and 200,000 kyat to the victim, Naang Kham Non. The case was then closed. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, June 2003)
Ten-year old girl and woman gang raped
On 2 March 2003, a 10-year-old Shan girl and a Lahu woman were raped by 5 SPDC soldiers from IB 66 on a deserted farm about 2 miles from Kho Lam village in Kho Lam village tract, Nam-Zarng Township of Shan State. On the day of the incident, Naang Mon (age 10), went with a neighbor named Pa Na-Khaa, who was over 30 years of age, to collect wild vegetables outside the Kho Lam village relocation site. They were originally from Nam Khaai village in Nawng Hee village tract, but had been forcibly relocated to Kho Lam in 1997 by government troops. While they were collecting wild vegetables, 5 SPDC troops from IB 66 suddenly appeared and raped both of them at gunpoint.
Pa Na-Khaa later lodged a complaint with the IB 66 camp commander at Kho Lam, who claimed that he would take responsibility in dealing with the matter. On 4 March 2003, Naang Mon was taken by her relatives to a hospital in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. However, Naang Mon did not recover and died at the hospital on 7 March 2003. When Naang Mon’s parents and relatives requested 300,000 kyat from the SPDC troops as compensation for Naang Mon’s life, they were threatened with imprisonment and even death if they told any outsiders about the incident. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, May 2003)
SPDC officer tries to rape Palaung girl in Namhsan
On 25 May 2003, at 8:00 pm, SPDC troops, from IB 23, based in Namhasn Township in Northern Shan State and led by Shwe Lay, came to Pang Ma village. They proceeded to steal 2 boxes of Chinese beer, 5 bottles of Mandalay Rum whisky, and 2 boxes of beef from villager U Paw Khun’s shop. Afterwards, Officer Shwe Lay attempted to rape U Paw Khun’s 17-year-old daughter, Ma San San Oo.
However, Ma San San Oo cried out loudly and Shwe Lay reluctantly released her. Her father reported the incident to the village headman, who in turn reported it to the IB 23 commander, Than Tun. As of the date of this report, no action had been taken. (Source: Palaung Youth Newsletter, Issue #3, PYNG, August 2003)
16-year-old raped at home by soldier
On 21 June 2003, an SPDC soldier raped a 16-year-old girl in her home at Lin Lam village in Wan Paeng village tract, Lawk-Zawk Township, Shan State. On this date 3 SPDC troops, led by a commander notoriously known by locals as Bo Myo Myint Ho Phaa (Commander Myo Myint of Ho Phaa), came to Lin Lam village and entered Lung Saam’s house, located at the edge of the village. At that time the following people were present in the house:
(1) Lung Saam, male, age 60, head of the family;
(2) Naai Kham, female, age 43, Lung Saam’s wife;
(3) Naang Seng, female, age 16, their daughter; and
(4) Zaai Dip, male, age 10, their son.
The SPDC troops ordered Lung Saam, his wife and their son to go and collect the village headman, while the troops waited at the house with their daughter, Naang Seng. Although the parents were concerned about the welfare of their daughter, they did not dare defy the soldiers’ orders. As the villagers left their house, Commander Myo Myint ordered 2 of his men to stand guard at the entrance of the house compound, while he dragged Naang Seng into the inner room of the house and raped her.
Although Naang Seng managed to cry out a couple of times, no one dared to come to her aid. When Lung Saam and his wife returned, they found their daughter crying inside the house, but all of the SPDC troops were outside of the house. Commander Myo Myint then denied any wrong doing to Lung Saam and his wife, claiming that she was crying only because she was afraid of them. The commander also warned the villagers that they would come and shoot dead whoever dared to accuse them of raping their daughter. (Source: SHRF Monthly Report, SHRF, January 2004)
Sexual Assault Against Migrant Children in Thailand
Thirteen-year-old girl assaulted and raped by landlord
On December 11, it was reported by a source from the migrant worker’s community, that a young girl was raped by her landlord in Mahachai, about 35 km southwest of Bangkok. As her cries for help were ignored, the Mon girl was raped by a man named Nai Od at "Thawatchai Chang-Ruey Flat" on Derm Bang Road.
The local source reported that Nai Od, 27-year-old son of the owner of the 30-room apartment building, along with 3 others came to the room rented by 2 Mon sisters around midnight on 11 December. The men brought with them several bottles of beer and asked the girls if they could come inside their tiny apartment in order to drink beer with them. The girls refused, but Nai Od violently slapped the elder sister and forced them to stay inside their room.
After the men got drunk, the landlord’s son began to molest the younger sister. When the elder sister tried to stop Nai Od, a fight broke out between them. The elder sister told her younger sister to flee. The 2 girls had fled in different directions, when the youngest girl was unfortunately found hiding by one of Nai Od's friends. Nai Od captured the 13-year old girl and dragged her back into the room where he raped her while she pleaded for help from the surrounding neighbors. The source noted Nai Od had brandished a gun in order to keep people from impeding him.
The 2 girls were originally from Ye Township, Mon State, in southern Burma. Roughly 50,000 registered migrant workers have left that area in order to come to work in the fishing industry in Mahachai, Thailand. (Source: “13-Year-Old Girl Assaulted and Raped by Landlord,” Kao Wao, 17 December 2003) (See chapter on migrants and women for more information.)
6. 10 Personal Accounts
Name: Ye Maung Kyaw (not real name)
Education: 8th standard
Martial status: Single
Source: Interviewed by Department of Information, KNU, 17 September 2003
Ye Maung Kyaw joined the army when he was 17 years old, on 4 April 1997. As a second corporal, with number Ta-eu-bu / 82940, he was responsible for battalion troop number LIB 338. While in the army his salary was 5,400 kyat per month (about US$5.50), however after taxes for social gatherings and funerals, mother and child care protection, and a general battalion fund he received 4,700 kyat per month. Ye Maung Kyaw explained that he was forcibly recruited into the army, as are many boys in his village when they reach 14 or 15-years old. He claims that both soldiers and recruitment officers demand one person from each family in his village join the armed forces. He attended intersect/communication training for 4 months, and lived in Mae-tha-war for 5 months, Ma-ner-plaw for 5 months, and Kwee-lah-hay for 5 months while serving in the army.
Ye Maung Kyaw was involved in fighting on the battlefield in Kwee-lah-hay, Ta-khaw-boe-khee (Mae Lah) and Maw-pah-thu. After becoming bored and unhappy serving under the SPDC for two years, the former child soldier decided to desert in order to try and join forces with the KNU. When asked about future plans he said, “I want to recombine with the KNU forces and continue fight back the military junta until I die.” Yet, he is unaware of politics and lacks knowledge of political parties. He has however witnessed human rights violations at the hands of the SPDC. It was common for him to see troops looting livestock, such as chickens and ducks, from the villages they entered. Porters were also forced by his battalion to carry weapons cartridges. Ye Maung Kyaw explained that human rights abuses are perpetrated by SPDC troops because the army fails to provide adequately for their own troops, and as a result they are forced to resort to looting villages in order to feed themselves. Porters are tortured, he claims, because of officers' direct orders to do so.
Table of Contents Facts on Human Rights Violations in Burma 2003