Submission by the Burma UN Service Office-New York & the Human Rights Documentation Unit

National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma


The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict


The preparation of the Secretary-General’s third report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, on the implementation of resolutions 1261 (1999), 1314 (2000), and 1379 (2001).





Executive Summary                                                                                                      3


Indicators                                                                                                                     4


Political Context                                                                                                           8


Health                                                                                                                          13


HIV/AIDS                                                                                                                   15


Education                                                                                                                     17


Food insecurity                                                                                                             19


Displacement, IDPs and Refugees                                                                                 19


Violence against Children                                                                                              24


Trafficking & Exploitation                                                                                             25


Child Soldiers                                                                                                               29


Landmines                                                                                                                    30


Conclusion                                                                                                                   31






Appendix 1: Map of Burma

Appendix 2: Map of Burma illustrating military headquarters

Appendix 3: Map showing areas in which forced village relocations have taken place since 1996

Appendix 4: Map of Burmese Border Refugee Sites with Population Figures

Appendix 5: Partial list of Human Rights Violations Against Burmese Children, 2001-2002

Appendix 6: Partial list of incidences concerning internal trafficking for forced labor and portering, 2001

Appendix 7: Interview with a Former (Juvenile) Prisoner from No. 6 New Life Camp

Appendix 8: Interviews with Child Soldiers






Who would want to be a child in Burma? Four decades of military rule, mismanagement and armed conflict have resulted in widespread poverty, poor health care, low educational standards and widespread and systematic human rights abuses.


The government spends 40% of the national budget on the military, while spending on healthcare and education is one of the lowest in the world at under 1% (US$0.60 and US$0.28 per capita respectively). The World Health Organization’s 2000 report graded Burma 190th overall in health system of 191 countries surveyed. According to UNICEF, of the 1.3 million children born every year, more than 92,500 will die before they reach their first birthday and another 138,000 children will die before the age of five. The main causes of death are malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, acute respiratory infections, and diarrheal diseases. More than 1 in 3 children under 5 will be malnourished.


These health problems are exacerbated by the on-going armed conflict, which disproportionately affects ethnic groups. Children from ethnic groups have extremely limited access to health care and immunization as UN agencies do not have access to these areas. Nor do they have access to internally displaced persons (IDPs) - of which a large proportion are children. Military violence coupled with displacement, forced relocations and resulting food insecurity are the main causes of malnutrition and other related illnesses. These children are also most at risk of serious human rights violations including sexual assault and trafficking.


According to UNAIDS, HIV prevalence in 2000 crossed the 1.0% threshold, making Burma one of only three countries in Asia to have an HIV epidemic considered to be ‘generalized’ throughout the population. An estimated 14,000 children have HIV and another 43,000 are AIDS orphans. Data from antenatal clinics record HIV prevalence of 2.8-5.3% among the youngest group (15-24 years old) of pregnant women. The HIV prevalence in military recruits has shown an increase (0.82% among those 15-19 years).


Low educational attainment is a serious social, economic and political problem. Only three out of four children enter primary school and of those only two out of five complete the full five years. That is, only 30% of Burmese children get proper primary school education let alone secondary and tertiary education. Female students are disproportionately affected by high dropout rates as fewer than one third of all girls who enroll make it through primary school. As a result, thousands of children are forced to drop out, interrupt or receive substandard education. The ongoing armed conflict has resulted in: the lack of an educational infrastructure; teachers; physical dangers due to lack of security; transience due to forced relocation; and Burmanization policies which force the closure of non-Burman schools in ethnic areas or discriminate against ethnic students.


Government displacement programs have taken place at least since the late 1960s have aimed at securing areas, cutting links between civilians and armed groups and reducing the impact of armed groups. Relocation orders by government authorities either specify where the villagers should relocate to - ‘relocation sites’ - or simply state that villagers should leave the area. To prevent villagers from remaining or returning, villages are burnt down and designated ‘free fire zones’.


Independent monitoring or assistance to IDPs has not been authorized by the Burmese government. Estimates of the total number of IDPs in Burma range between one and two million. Most asylum seekers arriving in Thailand lived for some time as IDPs. An estimated 400,000 Burmese asylum seekers and refugees are currently living in neighboring countries.


The U.S. State Department’s second annual ‘Trafficking in Persons’ report released on 5 June 2002 lists Burma as a country of origin for women and girls trafficked to Thailand, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Japan for sexual exploitation, domestic and factory work. Thailand is believed to be the primary destination with an estimated 40,000 Burmese women and children, most of them from ethnic groups, working as sex workers. A new trend shows that trafficked girls are increasingly virgins who are in demand due to the belief that young girls are less likely to the HIV positive. In practice, young girls are sold as virgins several times until the amount for which they can be sold steadily decreases. When girls are no longer profitable because of pregnancy or disease they are often turned out on the street.


Child labor has become increasingly prevalent and visible. Approximately one quarter of children in the age group 10-14 are engaged in paid work and there is a growing number of street children in concentrated urban areas. Street children and orphans are particularly vulnerable to forced recruitment into the armed forces. Burma is believed to be one of the world’s single largest users of child soldiers with up to 50,000 children serving in both government armed forces and armed opposition groups.


Burmese law does not specifically prohibit child labor and children are forced to labor on infrastructure development projects and income generating projects for the military, especially in ethnic areas. Children are also forced to serve as porters in combat areas, and frequently suffer beatings, rape and other mistreatment. Porters are used as human minesweepers and human shields during military operations and children are no exception. The number of landmine casualties, although unknown, is now believed to surpass even that of Cambodia. There is more chance of fatality if a child steps on a mine.


This report evidences that the present government of Burma is not adhering to Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict.



The following are indicators based on the current available data on the situation of Burmese children. As indicated in the table below, there are often wide discrepancies between official estimates of key indicators.


Estimated 50 million

Estimated 16,062 under 18 (8,154 male, 7,908 female)[1]



GDP growth


Officially estimated to have been 13.6%. Independent estimates suggest possibly 6%.[2]


GDP per capita (PPP US $)


1.027 (1999)[3]

Refugee and Internally Displaced Population (IDP)


Estimated 400,000 refugees (end of 2001).


Estimated 600,000 to 1 million IDPs.[4]


Independent monitoring or assistance to IDPs has so far not been authorized by the Burmese government.


Infant Mortality


80 deaths per every 1,000 live births (1998)[5]


Maternal mortality


486 per 100,000 live births (1999)[6]

Malnutrition under 5 years


35% or 1 in 3 (1999)[7] (moderate and severe)

Immunization coverage



HIV Rates


Generalized. Estimated over 530,000 adults and children infected with HIV (1.99%)


Estimated 180,000 infected are women


Estimated 14,000 infected are children


Estimated 43,000 AIDS orphans[9]

Education Indicators

Estimates of school age children attending primary school vary greatly from 30%[10] to 80% (2000)[11]


37% of children in urban areas reach grade 4 and only 22% do so in rural areas (57% total)[12]


54.2% attend secondary school (1997)[13] (male to female secondary school enrolment ratio 34.8%/ 35.9 (UNESCO 1996))[14]


1.2% of GNP is spent on education (1995-1997)[15]

Compulsory Recruitment into armed forces


Age 18


Government Armed Forces

393,750 active

85,250 paramilitary[16]


Child Soldiers

It is very difficult to obtain accurate data because of lack of access to the population. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimates there are more than 50,000 in government and opposition armed groups (2001)



Gender-Based Violence[17]

Although difficult to document statistically, GBV against women and children is known to be a serious problem among IDP and refugee populations[18]




Estimated 1,500 mine victims in 1999 alone.[19]


Government forces and at least eleven ethnic armed groups lay antipersonnel mines in significant numbers. Mine use is alleged also to be taking place under the direction of loggers and narcotic traffickers.


The Committee Representing the People's Parliament endorsed the Mine Ban Treaty in January 2000.





Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)


·        Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict


·        Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography


Acceded 15 July 1991



Not signed



Not signed

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women


Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 on the Protection of Victims of War

Acceded 22 July 1997




Acceded 25 August 1992


Political Context[20]


Burma is ruled by a highly authoritarian military regime. Repressive military governments dominated by members of the majority Burman ethnic group have ruled the ethnically Burman central regions and some ethnic nationality areas continuously since 1962, when a coup led by General Ne Win overthrew an elected civilian government.


Since September 1988, when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations, a junta composed of senior military officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. Originally called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the junta reorganized itself and changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997. The government is headed by armed forces commander Senior General Than Shwe.


In 1990 the junta permitted a relatively free election for a parliament to which it had promised to transfer power. Voters overwhelmingly supported antigovernment parties, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) winning 60% of the popular vote and 82% of the parliamentary seats. Since the 1990’s the junta systematically has violated human rights in the country to suppress the pro-democracy movement, including the NLD, and to thwart repeated efforts by the representatives elected in 1990 to convene. Instead the junta convened a government-controlled ‘National Convention’ intended to approve a constitution that would ensure a dominant role for the armed forces. Since 1995 the NLD has declined to participate in the National Convention, perceiving both its composition and its agenda to be tightly controlled by the junta.


Since October 2000, the Government has met with NLD General Secretary and Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi regarding the terms of a potential future transition to democracy. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and from October 2000 until 6 May this year. The substance of the talks remains secret but the results have included some loosening of government restrictions on NLD activities and the release of over 200 political prisoners since January 2001. There remain at least 1,500 political prisoners of which 17 are elected MPs. The judiciary is not independent of the junta and there is no effective rule of law.


The armed forces, conflict and security apparatus

Since 1988 the junta has doubled the size of the armed forces, from approximately 175,000 to more than 400,000 men and boys, and has increased its military presence throughout the country, especially in the ethnic nationality areas.


The military has often cited the danger to national unity posed by rebellious ethnic groups as a justification for its grip on power. Since 1988, 17 such groups have concluded cease-fire agreements with the junta. The agreements are very diverse in the economic and political autonomy granted to different groups. These agreements have had the affect of fragmenting opposition groups further, with some factions continuing to control their territory under arms, breakaway forces continuing their fight against the regime, and internecine fighting between different armed groups. Three main groups still stand against the regime - the Shan United Revolutionary Army, the Karenni National Progressive Party (who resumed fighting against the junta when their 1995 cease-fire broke down) and the Karen National Union (which continues to operate in areas with significant Karen populations, including not only Karen State but also Mon State, Tenasserim and Pegu Divisions).[21]


The regime reinforces its firm military rule with a pervasive security apparatus led by the military intelligence organization, the Defense Services and Intelligence Bureau. Control is reinforced by arbitrary restrictions on citizens’ contacts with foreigners, surveillance of government employees and private citizens, harassment of political activists, intimidation, arrest, detention, and physical abuse. The government justifies its security measures as necessary to maintain order and national unity. Members of the security forces have committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.



Burma has a population of approximately 50 million.[22] It is a resource-rich country. Primarily an agricultural economy, the country also has substantial mineral, fisheries, and timber resources. The manufacturing sector is relatively small, accounting for only 6.5% of GDP. Economic growth has slowed since the mid-1990’s, as the junta has retreated from economic liberalization.


Four decades of military rule and mismanagement have resulted in widespread poverty, poor health care, and low educational standards. Burma was officially designated a ‘least developed country’ in 1987. The World Bank estimates, based on a national government survey of household income and expenditures in 1997, that about one fourth of the population, or thirteen million people, are living below minimum subsistence level, with another five million living precariously just above it.[23] Since this household survey was conducted the economic situation has worsened; an even greater proportion of the population is now living below the minimum subsistence level.


Burma is ranked 125th in the UNDP Human Development Index 2000, placing it in the lower portion of ‘medium human development countries in the region’. Its score of 0.585, which measures health status, educational attainment, and general standard of living, places it third from bottom in Southeast Asia, just above Cambodia and Laos. However this figure is based on the official literacy rate of 84.4%. A recent UNICEF survey found that the real functionary literacy rate is only about 53%. With this estimate the HDI value would be lower, roughly the same as Laos placing it at the bottom.[24]


Human rights record

The government has an extremely poor human rights record. The United Nations has adopted increasingly strong resolutions on Burma since 1989, including resolutions by the General Assembly from 1991 to 2001. The UN Commission on Human Rights appointed Independent Experts in 1990 and 1991; and from 1992 took the strongest action it can take on a country, namely the appointment of a Special Rapporteur whose mandate continues. In 2001, for the first time in six years, the government allowed the current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, to visit the country. Resolutions on the human rights situation in Burma by the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights have been adopted by consensus.


An estimated 400,000 refugees are currently living in neighboring countries. Some are provided with temporary shelter and protection. Others live outside the camps and without assistance support and have to look for means of subsistence as illegal immigrants, with the constant risk of being exploited, trafficked, or forcibly returned to Burma. Trafficking in persons, particularly in women and girls mostly for the purposes of sex work, is widespread.


Independent monitoring or assistance to IDPs has so far not been authorized by the junta and it is very difficult to verify their number. Unofficial estimates place the current number of IDPs between 600,000 and 1 million persons.[25]


The ILO concluded in 1998 that forced labor was generalized and systematic. In November 2000, the ILO determined that the regime had not taken effective action to deal with the ‘widespread and systematic’ use of forced labor and, for the first time in its history, called on all ILO members to review their relations with the regime and take appropriate measures to ensure that the regime would not be able to take advantage of such relations to perpetuate or extend the system of forced labor. In September and October 2001, the regime permitted a high-level team appointed by the ILO Director-General to travel extensively in the country to review the status of the regime’s efforts to eliminate forced labor. The team found that forced labor was continuing, especially in the ethnic areas near the border and in villages near military camps, and that legislation introduced by the junta last year has had a limited practical impact.[26]


Natural Resources and Investment

Burma is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of heroin. Agriculture and natural resource extraction account for about 60% of GDP. Since 1988, the junta has opened Burma's teak forests to Thai loggers, its waters to the Thai fishing industry, and reversed the policy of economic isolation and invited international business to invest. Oil companies responded enthusiastically, and their signature fees, added to the fish and teak money, restored the junta’s solvency. Discoveries by European and U.S. companies of large offshore gas and oil deposits in Burmese territorial waters, which Thailand has contracted to buy, promise long-term revenues that could prop up the junta for years to come. The oil companies operating in Burma are: Premier Oil, UK, Nippon Oil (Japan), Unocal (U.S.), Total (France) and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand.


California based oil company Unocal faces a lawsuit for liability for human rights abuses perpetrated by the military junta in Burma while the regime was under contract to provide security for Unocal and its partners in a natural gas pipeline project. Army battalions working for Unocal allegedly compelled the villagers to perform forced or slave labor. Villagers report they have also endured arbitrary detention, forcible relocation, intimidation, torture, rape and summary executions. One Burmese woman is prepared to tell the jury that soldiers killed her infant by throwing it into a fire. The case will go to trial in California Superior Court in September 2002.[27]


Investment has steadily been withdrawn from Burma in response to consumer pressure, shareholder demand, and dissatisfaction from working in Burma.[28]


Since 1988/89, Burma has not received any new lending from multilateral financial institutions. Since 1991, bilateral assistance has also largely dried up in the wake of international sanctions. However, Burma continues to receive loans and grants from some countries, including the People’s Republic of China, India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, and from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.


In April this year, the junta stopped issuing import and export licenses to foreign trading companies in an apparent bid to give local companies an advantage - Burmese cannot compete with foreign exporters, who are buying up local products at high prices. The ban has mainly affected Burma’s neighbors, who have protested. Analysts predict the ban will reduce Burma's already meager exports and foreign-exchange earnings, because local companies don't have the overseas contacts and experience to take over all export trade.[29]


Because Burma is not on the Security Council’s agenda, no Security Council sanctions have been adopted. However, the EU and the U.S. have adopted and maintained sanctions on Burma.

The EU Common Position on Burma was first adopted in October 1996 and is renewed every six months. The Common Position, while confirming already existing sanctions - an arms embargo imposed in 1990, the suspension of defense co-operation since 1991 and the suspension of all bilateral aid other than strict humanitarian aid - introduced a visa ban on the members of the military regime, the members of the government, senior military and security officers and members of their families, as well as the suspension of high-level governmental visits to Burma. In 1998, the ban was widened to include transit visas and to cover the tourism administration in Burma.

The EU has not imposed any trade, investment or financial sanctions on Burma, but its generalised scheme of preferences (GSP), which had allowed for preferential tariff treatment, was withdrawn in 1997 because of forced labor concerns.


In 2000 the EU also banned exports to Burma of equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism, published a list of people affected by the visa ban and imposed a freeze on funds held abroad by people listed.


On 22 April 2002, the Common Position was renewed, unchanged, until October 29, 2002. The EU has stated its readiness to revise the Common Position at any time should developments in the country so indicate.[30]

The U.S. has maintained sanctions on the junta since 1996, renewed most recently on 17 May 2002. The sanctions in 1996 banned visas for members of the military and government, and in 1997 banned all new U.S. investment in Burma. In addition, the U.S. has imposed an arms embargo, opposed the extension of international financial assistance to Burma, suspended economic aid, withdrawn benefits under its generalised system of preferences (GSP) and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), denied credits from the Commodity Credit Corporation and Export-Import Bank assistance and restricted imports of Burmese oil and gas.

A group of 22 U.S. Senators recently introduced legislation that would ban all imports from Burma in response to the ILO’s call for its member countries to ensure they do not contribute to forced labor in Burma.[31]


Canada has removed GSP preferences on imports from Burma and provides no preferential financing for exports to or investment in the country.



Humanitarian assistance

In a letter dated 30 June 2001, leaked to the press in early August, all nine UN agency representatives in Rangoon collectively called on their respective headquarters and the international community for a ‘dramatic overhaul of the budget allocations’ for Burma because the country is ‘on the brink of a humanitarian crisis’.[32]


In the wake of international isolation and sanctions, multilateral and bilateral assistance has shrunk and the UN has emerged as the largest source of aid, which is mainly humanitarian. At present, 68 per cent of official development assistance (ODA) is channelled through UN agencies operating in the country.[33] There are 29 international NGOs operating in Burma, of which 16 are subcontracted by UN agencies. Assistance from these INGOs has increased from $4.5 million in 1999 to more than $7 million in 2000.[34] INGO activities are concentrated mainly on HIV/AIDS, primary health, and maternal and child health care.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Mr Ismail Razali, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma have discussed with the government and Aung San Suu Kyi the possibility of greater UN humanitarian assistance to deal with the challenge posed by HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues, including malaria and the lack of immunization. Agreement has not yet been reached on modalities to enable the provision of such assistance.




The WHO World Health Report 2000 graded Burma 190th in overall health system performance of 191 countries surveyed. ‘Given that almost one quarter of households have incomes below the minimum subsistence level and that 70 per cent of household expenditures are on food, it is very difficult for many families to afford even basic health services.  In such circumstances, women and children often suffer the most.’[35]


The rates of infant mortality and malnutrition among children are very high, comparing unfavorably with its neighbors. In each of these areas, the trend within Burma over the last 15 years is one of stagnation or deterioration. According to UNICEF, of the 1.3 million children born every year, more than 92,500 will die before they reach their first birthday and another 138,000 children will die before the age of 5. The main causes of premature death are malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, acute respiratory infections, and diarrheal diseases.[36] More than 1 in 3 children aged under 5 will become malnourished, most probably when they are between 1-3 years old.[37] Conflict, massive displacements, economic mismanagement and inadequate budget allocations have provoked this situation.


The mortality rate for AIDS is unknown, but is growing rapidly. UNAIDS estimates that 530,000 people (2% of the population aged 15-49) are infected with HIV. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the country is high, with estimates ranging between 230 and 580 per 100,000 live births. Contraception is largely unavailable and it is estimated that the consequences of unsafe abortion account for around 50 per cent of maternal deaths[38].


Burma’s healthcare system is the most discriminatory in the ASEAN region, with responsiveness likely to depend upon an individual’s ethnic group, income level, or civilian versus military status. The health problems are exacerbated by the ongoing armed conflict, which disproportionately affects the ethnic groups. Children from ethnic groups have extremely limited access to health care, hospitals and immunization. Rural and border areas need increased immunization and inoculation coverage.[39] Conditions are particularly harsh in areas of open conflict, where the population is under pressure from both regime and insurgent armies. Landmines and military violence directly affect the health of the populace, while displacement and forced relocations are the main causes of malnutrition and other related illnesses.


The border areas score lower than the national average on most social indicators, with Northern Rakhine (Arakan), Chin State, and Kayah (Karenni) State being the worst affected.[40] UN agencies and international NGOs do not have access to large segments in these States. IDPs suffer the most as the regime refuses to acknowledge or allow official assistance to this most vulnerable population, the majority of which are children.


Children under the age of five are imprisoned along with their mothers if they have no relatives to care for them, if their mothers have requested they stay together, or if they are born in prison. All children leave prison once they attain the age of five. If there are no relatives to care for them they are placed in social services.


Children live under the same conditions as other prisoners, which includes inadequate health care, unsanitary conditions and lack of nutritious food. Prisoners are allocated 7-8 cups of water a day for washing which must be shared with their children. Meals, which are shared, consist of rice gruel in the morning and two other meals a day of boiled rice and watery soup made with a little fish paste and unwashed vegetables.


Children living in prison receive no immunizations. Family members or other prisoners are relied on for medicine if the children fall sick. Women giving birth do not receive adequate pre-natal care and during birth are only assisted by a fellow prisoner. They are not HIV/AIDS tested, creating a higher risk of passing the disease onto their children.


Burma’s healthcare system is in a shambles due to inadequate budget allocations. Since 1985, public expenditure on health has shown a dramatic downward trend. Government spending on health care declined from 0.38% of GDP in 1995/6 to 0.17% in 1999/2000, one of the lowest levels in the world.[41] In 1999, the regime’s per capita expenditure on health care was US$0.60. The World Bank’s recommended minimum is twenty times that amount.[42] The regime claims that its health expenditure in 2000/1 has increased to 0.305% of GDP[43], which is still completely inadequate.




Reports indicate that HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly among Burmese, fuelled by population mobility, poverty and frustration that breeds risky sexual activity and drug-use. Burma stands perilously close to an unstoppable epidemic.[44] In June 2000, UNAIDS estimated that 530,000 people are infected by HIV.[45] This translates into one in 50 (2%) of the population in the most sexually active age bracket of 15 to 49. Some 180,000 of those infected were women, and another 14,000 were children. According to one estimate there were anywhere from 42,000 to 58,000 HIV-positive children born in Burma between 1988 and 1998.[46] Some 43,000 children under fifteen are already living without their mothers or both parents because of AIDS. Given the sex ratio of infection in the country (approx. 5:1, men to women), it is likely that a great many more children have lost their fathers. With around 50,000 new AIDS deaths a year, the total number of children deprived of one or both of their parents is rising sharply.[47]


Official HIV surveillance data in Burma, while imperfect, clearly indicate a serious epidemic that has spread from known high-risk groups into the general population, as indicated by the above figures. Data from antenatal clinics record HIV prevalence of 2.8% among the youngest group (15-24 years old) of pregnant women (in some sites, border areas, the rate is as high as 5.3%). The majority of currently infected persons are male and most infections are transmitted sexually. This is associated with prostitution; HIV prevalence in different samples of female prostitutes ranges from 30-50%. Intravenous drug users, mostly male and concentrated in northern opium-producing states, have HIV prevalence levels up to 74% and more, one of the highest levels recorded anywhere in the world. Among blood donors – generally the lowest risk population of all – HIV prevalence in 2000 crossed the 1.0% threshold, making Burma one of only three countries in Asia to have an HIV epidemic considered to be ‘generalized’ throughout the population.[48]


Based on available information, HIV appears to reach higher levels in transport hubs, at ports, major border crossings, and in big cities. Since little testing has taken place in strictly rural areas where there is conflict, one could speculate that rural areas, which serve as source communities for many migrants, might also have notable levels of HIV.[49]


An increasingly high number of young girls are being trafficked to Thailand to work in the sex industry. These girls are at high risk of contracting HIV as many of them are sold and re-sold a number of times as ‘virgins’.


Six hundred military recruits have been tested each year since 1992 by the National AIDS Program of the Department of Health within the Ministry of Health. The HIV prevalence in military recruits has shown an increase. The rate ranged between 0.67% and 2.17% with 0.82% among those 15-19 years old rising to 2.49% among the men aged 20-24 years old.[50]


Condoms were outlawed until 1992 and usage remains very low. Poor quality and overpriced treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) facilitates the transmission of HIV. People with HIV infections are generally stigmatized and do not always access the care and support actually in place. Few support groups exist for People Living with HIV/AIDS. Only recently has the regime publicly acknowledged concern about HIV/AIDS and publicly named the epidemic as one of the top three priority public health issues, along with malaria and TB.[51]


In the absence of any significant bilateral and multilateral donors, the UN system in Burma is the principal source of external funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and control efforts. The newly implemented two-year UN Joint Plan of Action aims to achieve a more coordinated approach by the UN agencies working on HIV/AIDS. Several international NGOs have their own programs on HIV/AIDS prevention and care.[52] All of the UN co-sponsors have funded and partnered with at least one of these NGOs for HIV projects. Though international NGOs are reported to be effective, their geographical and population reach is very limited.[53]




The regime has neglected the education of children, allocating minimal resources to public education. In 1999, the World Bank found that state spending on education is among the lowest in the world, equivalent to 28 cents per child annually. Of the national budget, 40.1% is used for the military forces while less than 1% is used for all civilian education.[54]


Rates of school attendance and educational attainment decreased during 2001, largely due to increasing formal and informal school fees, as the junta diverted expenditures from health and education to the armed forces.[55]


Low educational attainment is a serious social, economic and political problem. Only three out of four children enter primary school, and of those only two out of five complete the full five years. In other words, only 30% of Burmese children get proper primary schooling, let alone secondary and tertiary education.[56]


Those children who are able to attend school rarely receive quality education. Textbooks, equipment and school supplies are outdated and in short supply. Standards are lower and a new exam system makes it easier to pass the primary, middle and high school levels.[57] Cheat sheets are widely available and bribes, corruption and favoritism are linked to passing with high marks.


Teachers’ salaries are far below subsistence wages and have forced many teachers to quit teaching out of economic necessity. Increasingly, only prosperous families can afford to send their children to school, even at the primary level. In some areas in the center of the country, in which few families are able to afford unofficial payments to teachers, teachers generally no longer come to work and schools no longer function. In response to government neglect, private institutions have begun to provide assistance in education, despite an official monopoly on education.[58] The higher costs in this sector effectively exclude the poorest and weakest strata of the population. Privatization is also further undermining the public system as qualified doctors and teachers, a scarce resource to begin with, either leave public sector jobs or complement them with increasing time in private practices.[59]


Female students are disproportionately affected by high dropout rates. Fewer than one third of all girls who enroll make it through primary school.[60] According to a shadow report for the 22nd session of the CEDAW, the girl child is most at risk of dropping out of school when a family faces hardship – poverty or security concerns.[61]


In addition to dropping out of school for financial reasons, thousands of children are forced to drop out, or interrupt, their education for reasons associated with conflict due to: lack of an educational infrastructure; few teachers; security concerns; constant transience due to forced relocation; and Burmanization policies that force the closure of non-Burman schools in ethnic areas.[62] Other factors include: forced labor requirements; burning of villages by the military and subsequent free-fire zones; extra-judicial killing or arbitrary arrest of parents; and the general disruption of village life by military authorities who view all civilian activities as subordinate to military and state interests.[63]


Reports from Karen State and an education study in Mon State provide evidence that the education policy of the regime promotes Burmanization throughout the education system to the detriment of ethnic groups. Burmese is the only medium for instruction permissible for state primary and secondary schools. Ethnic nationality children rarely get the opportunity to study in their own language or topics related to their cultural heritage.  One member of the Shan ethnic group described the situation:


“The school teachers are mostly Burman…There is no Shan language or culture taught at school.  They let the students learn about Burmese history, and the good things that Burmans are doing.  They don’t teach about Shan – they don’t say anything good or bad about Shan culture.”[64]


This has the dual effect of placing ethnic students who attend state-sponsored schools at a disadvantage in the classroom behind their native-speaking Burmese peers and promotes the marginalization of ethnic members who do attend the state-run education system. 


The regime’s subordination of the education system to military interests disproportionately affects ethnic children through sheer neglect. Remote areas which are difficult to access and largely populated by ethnic groups suffer the most. For example, in the Naga hills, although there are primary and high schools in some villages and townships, regime-appointed teachers often do not teach even though they are receiving salaries and use facilities provided by the regime. Schools are run by villagers at their own expense; they resort to using locals with some college experience as teachers.[65]




While Burma is self-sufficient in food production at the national level, many people do not have food security (defined as sustainable access to safe food of sufficient quality and quantity, including energy foods, protein and micro-nutrients). According to the UN and other sources, since the World Bank’s national government survey in 1997, which found that only about 40% of households consumed calories at or above recommended daily allowance, and only 55% consumed enough protein, conditions have worsened: ‘Widely scattered reports of spontaneous emergency feedings, purchase of rice water for food, and reliance on inferior cereals such as millet all suggest increasing stress…The conclusion must be that consumption of many families is less than usual, less than needed, and under increasing pressure’.[66]


Burma’s armed forces continue to be directly responsible for the most severe violations of the right to food. Counter-insurgency operations randomly destroy food stocks and crops, relocate civilian communities, and expropriate cash and materials. Reports indicate that in some areas military operations directly target rural food supplies and crops without distinction, displace people from villages, scatter them into hills and jungles or force them into relocation sites. Standing between these people and starvation is nothing more than their extraordinary tenacity. Widespread dislocation is resulting in serious and long-term structural food scarcity, not mere seasonal hunger due to occasional military incursions. Evidence of growing malnutrition among Burmese children is of particular concern.

Violations of the right to food in Burma are systemically linked to the ongoing expansion of militarization. Routine state functions have been militarized to the extent that virtually all transactions between the people and the state involve a degree of coercion. National agricultural policy is oriented away from the people and towards satisfying military and state needs. The military presence affects even the most fundamental day to day economic decisions of regular families.[67]




While there is very little information about conflict induced displacements prior to the 1990s, government displacement programs, in place at least since the late 1960s, aim at securing areas, cutting links between civilians and armed groups and reducing the impact of armed groups. Other contributing factors include land nationalization and distribution campaigns, the construction of hydroelectric power plants and large dams and small scale infrastructure projects. Increasingly in the 1990s, State military development has led to displacement of civilians when cultivable land has been confiscated for construction of garrisons or intensification of agricultural production. This has shattered the resource base of local communities.


Most notably affected have been the Muslim Rohingyas of Arakan (Rakhine) State, the Shan, Karen (Kayin), Kachin and the Karenni (Kayah) each within their own state, as well as other smaller ethnic populations that also live in these same lands.


Patterns of conflict induced displacement include:


  • Displacement into State controlled areas such as relocation sites or gathering villages;
  • Displacement into hills and forests surrounding the village, either to avoid threats or actual violence due to the presence of both State and non-State armies or to avoid relocation orders into State controlled areas;
  • Displacement into other areas where lesser hostilities mean less harassment and generalized violence;
  • Displacement into Thailand, either in refugee camps or elsewhere;
  • Displacement within non-State controlled areas.


Relocation orders by the government either specify where the villagers should relocate to or simply state that the villagers should leave the area. In most cases the orders are accompanied with a threat of violence against anyone still in the village after a certain date. To prevent villagers from remaining or returning, villages are burnt down and made into ‘free fire zones’. There are major security concerns both within and outside relocation sites. Rapes of women and girls have been reported in relocation sites by government forces and outside the sites by both State and non-State actors when seeking food from forests or small farmed plots.[68] See violence against children section below.


Numerous locally based and international NGOs have reported on the displacement of ethnic nationality groups in Burma. These organizations include: the Karen Human Rights Group,[69] the Burma Ethnic Research Group (BERG),[70] the Shan Human Rights Foundation,[71] the U.S. Committee on Refugees[72], the Women’s Commission on Refugee Women and Children,[73] and Amnesty International.[74]


A recent report documents that attacks on villagers by the Burmese army have greatly increased this year in central Dooplaya district, Karen State (and in the 7 other Karen districts, Karenni, Shan, Arakan, Chin and Mon States). From April to June 2002, over 5,000 people have been displaced in central Dooplaya district and at least 15 villagers murdered, including women and children as young as 2 years old. Over 1,000 people are now hiding in the jungle attempting to make it through Burmese army patrols into Thailand.[75]



Independent monitoring or assistance to IDPs has not been authorized by the regime and it is thus not possible to verify the number of IDPs in Burma. However it can be said that tens of thousands of villagers in the contested zones remain in forced relocation sites or are internally displaced within the region.[76]


Estimates of the total number of IDPs in Burma range between one and two million,[77] with around 300,000 in north-eastern Shan State, 100,000-200,000 in Karen State, 70,000-80,000 in Karenni State, 60-70,000 in Mon State and about 100,000 in Arakan State.[78]


Most of the asylum seekers arriving in Thailand had previously lived for some time as IDPs. They became displaced either as they were forcibly relocated, or in anticipation of forced relocation, or else they fled when human rights abuses or military threats become intolerable. In urban areas, massive forced relocation has reportedly taken place for purposes of "land development planning" and other urban works.[79] IDPs are now finding it increasingly difficult to flee Burma and seek asylum in neighboring countries as the Burmese army now controls most of the border, the number of land mines in use has substantially increased and they face an uncertain welcome from neighboring authorities.


IDPs hide in the forest and live in small communities of three to four families to avoid detection. Some groups move to a new location every few days. They face tremendous hardship living without regular food, shelter, access to medical care and security. Most children suffer from malnutrition, older people and pregnant women suffer from nutritional deficiency and difficulties when giving birth.



An estimated 400,000 refugees are currently living in neighboring countries. For decades a steady stream of refugees have sought asylum in neighboring countries, especially Thailand, Bangladesh and India.


Bangladesh border

Discrimination, violence and forced labor practices by the regime triggered an exodus of more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims between 1991 and 1992. This population is predominantly concentrated in the northern part of Arakan State. Approximately 232,000 refugees have been repatriated under the supervision of the UNHCR and 21,600 remain in two camps.


The majority of the refugees are malnourished and do not have sufficient food to feed their families, nor are they allowed to work or farm. As a result, 58% of Burmese refugee children suffer from chronic malnutrition, exposing them to disease and hampering their physical and mental development.[80]


Thai border

Burmese asylum seekers started arriving on Thai soil in 1984.  Refugees continue to flow into Thailand. As of December 2001, there were over 138,000 refugees in camps along the Thai-Burma border (an all time high) and hundreds of thousands more in Thailand who were unable or unwilling to stay within the refugee camps but who had suffered clear abuse at the hands of the Burmese government.[81]  


The total number of children living in refugee camps in December 2001 was 54,980 - according to reporting by the Karen, Mon and Karenni Committees. It should be noted that an ‘adult’ is defined as anyone over 12 in Karen and Mon societies and over 14 in Karenni society.[82]


Of concern is that children born in the refugee camps or to migrants are stateless. The Thai government is a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child but has reservations on Article 7 concerning nationality and Articles 22 and 29(c) concerning appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance for and education of refugee children.[83]


The overall rate of new arrivals has been steady now at around 1,000 per month for the last three years. These flows suggest continued high incidences of human rights abuses by the Burmese army against villagers in the non-Burman ethnic nationality areas[84] (especially in northern Karen State, central Shan State, Mon State and Arakan State). The new arrivals give the same reasons for leaving, which are mainly to escape forced village relocations, forced labor and other human rights abuses.


There are some 100,000 Shan refugees in the border region who do not have access to international protection or the camps. The Shan survive by seeking employment in the Thai labor market. They are most at risk during periodic deportation sweeps by Thai authorities. Many with genuine claims for refugee status have been deported and this practice continues. 


For the last several decades Thailand has been host to thousands of refugees from neighboring countries. In general the Thais have shown tolerance and compassion in allowing most of the refugees to stay until a durable solution is found. However, on several occasions they have forcibly returned refugees from Burma.[85] The fact that the Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugees Convention means there is little to prevent the Thai government from doing so. 


UNHCR became fully operational in the early part of 1999 with the opening and staffing of three offices along the border. Its role is principally one of monitoring and protection. It has no permanent offices in the camps, which continue to be administered by the Thai authorities with the assistance of refugee committees. NGOs continue to provide and coordinate relief services to the refugee camps under bilateral agreements with the Royal Thai Government.


Indian border

There is limited information about Burmese asylum seekers in India. Approximately 55,000 Burmese nationals are currently in India. Of that number, only about 467 are recognized by UNHCR as its mandate to protect and assist refugees extends only to those living in New Delhi. Most of the UNHCR-recognized refugees are student activists who left Burma during the 1988 uprising.[86]


A large number of ethnic Chin (40,000) and other tribal refugees have sought asylum in the Indian state of Mizoram (close to the Indo-Burma border). The presence of Chin, Nagas and Arakan refugees is not acknowledged by the Government of India. The Mizoram State Government has forcibly repatriated many Chin refugees since 1994. The Nagas have mainly sought refuge in the Indian State of Nagaland.[87]



"One of my sons was killed while his mother was carrying him on January 20th [2000]. They shot him in the head and it was broken. He was not so big. He would have been 6 months old in two days. They came very close when they shot at us. We didn't know they had come. The enemy are finding civilians to shoot at like this...they know we are civilians without weapons, so they chase us like pigs and dogs… They are not chasing their enemy, they are chasing the civilians."[88]

Burmese children are direct victims of the conflict in the form of forced labor and portering, torture, rape, trafficking, landmines, as IDPs, and extrajudicial killings by the army and security forces. This section will briefly outline these concerns and the following sections will expand on the issue of trafficking, forced labor and portering. Please refer to Appendix 5 for a partial list of killings, sexual assault and other human rights abuses committed by government authorities against Burmese children during 2001-2002.


Displacement is believed to disproportionately affect children as they are most vulnerable to disease and malnutrition due to lack of access to health care, they have no access to education, no security and are at risk of serious human rights abuses if found by Burmese army troops. Persons, including children, are often forced to act as human minesweepers and human shields during insurgency campaigns.


Girls and sometimes boys, under the age of 18, are routinely raped by Burmese army soldiers. These atrocities are directly linked to increased militarization and anti-insurgency measures. A new report released in June 2002 by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women’s Action Network entitled, ‘License to Rape’, extensively details rapes involving at least 625 girls and women by Burmese army troops in Shan State.[89] The report found that most of the rapes committed between 1996 and 2001 by soldiers from 52 different battalions, were by officers in front of their troops. The rapes were often extremely brutal, with one-quarter resulting in death. In some instances, the bodies were then displayed to local communities. Many of the girls and women were gang-raped, or raped repeatedly for periods of up to four months. The rapes occurred while villagers are being forcibly relocated, inside and outside relocation sites, at IDP sites, during forced labor or portering and at military checkpoints. Out of the total 173 documented incidents, in only one case was a perpetrator punished by his commanding officer. More commonly, the complainants were fined, detained, tortured or even killed by the military. Even the rape of a 5 year old girl in 2000 has gone unpunished.


‘In March 2001, when Naang Mie was five years old, her parents went to work on their farm leaving Naang Mie with her twelve-year-old sister. That night her sister went to a movie. The movie finished at 9 p.m., and their house was far away from the other houses in the village. At 7 o'clock, an SPDC soldier from IB 99 came into the house. He tied up Naang Mie's hands and legs with rope, and raped her. When her sister came home from the movies, she found Naang Mie, tied up and crying, with her sexual organs bloody. There was no one else around. Naang Mie was too afraid to tell her sister what had happened, because the soldier had threatened to kill her if she complained to anybody. A neighbor came and took Naang Mie to the hospital. She summoned the courage to tell a doctor what had happened, and a nurse stitched up her ripped vagina. They gave her medicine and took photographs for their records. The doctor and nurses told the girls that they would try to report the incident. Naang Mie's parents complained to the village headman, but they were too afraid to go to the military with their grievance. They were afraid for their children's safety, and because they were often away from their house all day, they worried that the military might loot and destroy their home.’[90]


Such abuses do not occur solely in Shan State. There has been documented incidences of sexual assault from Karen, Karenni, and Mon human rights groups as well.[91] It should be noted that due to the stigma attached to rape, many girls do not report incidents of sexual violence and most incidences are related by refugees. Therefore the scope of this problem is unknown. What is known is that there is a lack of legal redress for the crimes and of any crisis support for the victims.


Whether or not a child is a direct target of violence, children living in areas of armed conflict are subjected to numerous hardships. Family, community and cultural life are disrupted by violence and insecurity. Children witness killings and violence directed against their family, neighbors and community members. The emotional and mental toll this will have over a lifetime is impossible to calculate.




Child prostitution and trafficking in girls for the purpose of prostitution, forced labor, sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation are a major problem. Shan girls, who are sent or lured to Thailand, are particularly affected.


The U.S. State Department's second annual ‘Trafficking in Persons’ report released on 5 June 2002, listed Burma as a country of origin for women and girls trafficked to Thailand, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Japan for sexual exploitation, domestic and factory work.[92]


Thailand is believed to be the primary destination for trafficked Burmese citizens. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 Burmese women, most of them from ethnic groups, are working as prostitutes in Thailand. Some are abducted, while others are lured with false promises of legitimate employment that is so scarce in their impoverished home areas. [93] 


There are no reliable estimates of the total number of trafficked persons. The regime has acknowledged the problem exists and has begun creating a framework to address it. However, it has failed to commit sufficient resources to combat trafficking; to collect meaningful data on the incidence of trafficking; to make any serious effort to arrest or prosecute traffickers; to cooperate in international efforts, including extradition, investigations, and conferences, and has not signed or ratified related treaties and conventions; to facilitate the repatriation of trafficking victims or work with international NGO's or other governments to address the problem. Corruption among local government officials is widespread and includes complicity in the trafficking of persons. There is evidence of government fraud in connection with the trafficking in persons, mostly resulting from the regime’s control over persons.


The phenomenon of trafficking, common to many developing countries where economic development is uneven, is intensified by the conflict in Burma. Economic mismanagement by the regime resulting in widespread poverty, along with the effect of the conflict in border areas, has presented the thriving sex industry in Thailand as the only employment option for many women. Pressure to contribute to the family’s financial well-being and a dearth of alternative employment opportunities override the strong social tendency against sex work.[94]


The regime’s efforts to stop trafficking in young women are limited and relatively ineffective. The regime enacted legislation aimed at suppressing trafficking of women but it is flawed, as it is directed toward punishing those victimized by trafficking. For example, there are regulations forbidding girls under age 25 from crossing the border unless accompanied by a guardian. The regime has made it difficult for women to obtain passports or marry foreigners in order to reduce the outflow of women both as victims of trafficking and for other reasons. These laws, instead, impinge upon women’s right to travel.[95] Most citizens who were forced or lured into prostitution crossed the border into Thailand without passports.


The regime has adopted the Bangkok Accord and Plan of Action Against Trafficking; there also is an interagency task force on trafficking, which has produced pamphlets, a video, and a radio skit, but these are not widely distributed or used. The regime provides no assistance to repatriated victims. [96]


The trafficking of women from Burma for commercial sex work in Thailand has been well documented; however a new trend shows that trafficked girls are increasingly virgins who are in demand because of the belief that young girls are less likely to be HIV positive. This demand has led more and more families to sell their daughters into brothels for a short period of time until the “value of their virginity” has expired, at which point they return to their families. In practice, young girls are sold as virgins several times until the amount for which they can be sold steadily decreases.[97] 


According to one 13-year old Karen girl who was sold into prostitution against her will:


‘At first, they didn’t put me in the prostitute house.  I don’t know what they call it  - is that “Par Kin-Paunt”?[98] As soon as they sent me there, a man started to “Par-Kin-Paunt” me.  I asked him, “what are you going to do to me?”  The uncle told me, “I paid for you, I can do whatever I want.”  I tried to fight him, but he beat me and then used me.  At this place, they sold me as “Par-Kin-Paunt” maybe three times, I don’t remember.  After that, the head-person of Darling Prostitution House came and took me to work at their brothel.  They didn’t allow me to go out or look out the windows.  They beat me when they saw me looking out the windows.’


These young prostitutes are not adequately educated about sexually transmitted diseases and customers who pay more for a virgin girl are rarely willing to use a condom. Child prostitutes are often held against their will after being sold into prostitution, do not receive adequate food or health care, and live in physically insecure situations where they fear bodily harm from both their employers and customers. If a girl is no longer profitable because of pregnancy or disease she is often turned out on the street. 


Internal trafficking and exploitation[99]

There is internal trafficking of women and girls from areas of extreme poverty to areas where prostitution is common – primarily in major cities and along the borders with Thailand, China and India. Internal trafficking for purposes of forced labor and porters appears to be a growing problem, but there are no reliable statistics regarding its extent.


Special Rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro stated approximately one quarter of the children in age group 10-14 (about 1.25 million children) are engaged in paid work and there is a growing number of street children concentrated in urban areas. This is further aggravated by the plight of thousands of children and women who have become internally displaced or illegal migrants in neighboring countries.’[100]


Child labor has become increasingly prevalent and visible. Working children are highly visible in cities, mostly working for small or family enterprises. In the countryside, children work in family agricultural activities. Children working in the urban informal sector in Rangoon and Mandalay often begin work at young ages. Children are hired at lower pay rates than adults performing similar work. In the urban informal sector, child workers are found mostly in food processing, street vending, refuse-collecting, light manufacturing, and as tea shop attendants. According to government statistics, 6 percent of urban children work, but only 4 percent of working children earn wages.


Burmese law does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor by children; while bonded labor is not practiced, forced child labor occurs. Children are forced to labor on infrastructure development projects and income generating projects for the military. In recent years, there have been growing numbers of reports that military units in various ethnic nationality areas either forced children to perform support services, such as fetching water, cleaning, cutting bamboo, or cultivating food crops, or allowed households or villages to use children to satisfy army orders to perform such services. Children are also forced to serve as porters in combat areas, in which beatings and other mistreatment reportedly occur. There are reports that children have been used as human minesweepers and human shields during military operations. The authorities reportedly often round up orphans and street children in Rangoon and other cities and force them into military service.


Although Burmese law sets a minimum age of 13 for the employment of children, in practice the law is not enforced. The regime has not ratified the ILO Convention on the Minimum Age requirement or the ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. (See ‘Extracts Concerning Abuse of Children Particularly in the Context of Military Operations, from the Report of the ILO Commission of Inquiry into Forced Labor in Burma’, found at: http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/COI-children-bold.htm, and EarthRights International’s latest report entitled ‘We are not Free to Work for Ourselves: Forced Labor and Other Human Rights Abuses in Burma’, June 2002, found at http://www.earthrights.org/pubs/FL2002.pdf).




We understand that Human Rights Watch will report to your office the findings from their recent three-week mission to interview current and former child soldiers along the Thai-Burma border. As such this section will be brief.


The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has cited Burma as one of the world’s single largest users of child soldiers with up to 50,000 children serving in both government armed forces and armed opposition groups.[101] Factors that lead to the use of child soldiers include poverty, displacement, lack of educational opportunities, arms proliferation and the militarization of society, all of which can be found in abundance in Burma.


The majority of child soldiers are forcibly enlisted. For example, the All Burma Muslim Union reported in 2001 that SPDC authorities had been stopping passenger buses traveling from Kaw Ka Rate to Myawaddy, Karen State and arresting male passengers under the age of 15. Those who could pay a bribe were released, but others were sent to Pa’an and put on a list to become soldiers. Particularly at risk for forced recruitment are orphans and street children. Often children are arrested for minor infractions of the law and then given the option of joining the army or going to prison.


“They [the police] asked for my ID. I was too young to have an ID; I was only eleven years old. The police said that because I did not have an ID I had to go to prison for six years. I did not understand the laws, so when the police said this to me I could not do anything. The police told me that if I was interested in joining the military, I did not have to spend six years in prison. I preferred joining the military. This happened to me in early 1999…When I was in Mingladone, I heard that the people at the checkpoint were promoted when they recruited twenty new soldiers. I heard that for recruiting one man, a policeman was rewarded 3,000 kyat of cash and two tins of rice.”[102]


According to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) in a report in March 2001, many children between the ages of 13-19 are enlisted, some as young as 9.[103] In some cases, children were taken from their parents under the guise of wanting to give them educational opportunities, but they were in fact placed in military schools and expected to join the army. Children are given the same basic training as other soldiers, but if they are not strong enough to carry their own guns or backpacks they can be kept in battalion camps for months or years. If they are too young to be sent out on operations (ie under the age of 12 or 13), they can be used as forced labor on projects such as digging roads, taking care of animals or cutting grass and bushes. Child soldiers are often beaten by other soldiers or their commanders, have little or no contact with their families, are underpaid, and are not given adequate food or medicine. The following testimonial comes from a KHRG interview with a former child solder:


“[The army] also has children as young as 10 or 12 years old.  They really need the manpower at the frontline of the battlefield so they arrest children.  Some are too young so they keep them to take care of goats, cows and chickens [at the camps].  They also have children that they send to school.  It is because they need higher numbers of soldiers that they are arresting like that…The 10 and 11 year olds have to attend the training.  If they couldn’t follow to the frontline and couldn’t carry their backpack and gun, they were ordered to go to the rear area and raise goats for one or two years.”[104] 




Landmine pollution is now believed to affect 9 out of 14 of the states or divisions of Burma, in areas near its borders with Bangladesh, India and Thailand, with a heavy concentration in eastern Burma. Karen, Karenni and Shan States are the worst affected. Landmines are placed by the Burmese army and ethnic militias. Villagers are known to be used as human minesweepers by the Burmese army in counter-insurgency campaigns.[105]


The number of landmine casualties in Burma is now believed to surpass even that of Cambodia, and the manufacture of anti-personnel landmines is on the rise.[106] Sixty percent of victims are combatants, making the remaining forty percent civilian victims.[107] Landmines affect children disproportionately as there is more chance of fatality if a child steps on a landmine.


The number of landmine victims in Burma remains unknown. There is currently no centralized agency collecting statistics on landmine incidents or survivors within Burma. Relying on disparate data, Landmine Monitor Report 2000 estimated that conflict in Burma produced approximately 1,500 mine victims in 1999 alone, including perhaps nearly one civilian landmine amputee per day in Karen State. This is, however, only an estimate. There is no reliable way to trace the number of people killed or maimed by landmines.


The landmine casualty rate may be increasing. Statistics of landmine victims transported for surgery by Medicins Sans Frontičres (recipient of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize) show a modest increase during the year 2000 over the previous two years.[108] There is no humanitarian demining in Burma; mine survivors receive little assistance: unless a victim can pay for treatment, no care is available; Burma still produces mines and is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Most disturbing are reports from users of mines of ‘lost’ mines - mines planted with no record of their position.



The three Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict (1379, 1314 and 1261) are intended to form a web of protection for children in war zones. They compel and exhort all actors that might have an influence on an armed conflict to take whatever measures they can to protect children during armed conflict. In the case of Burma it is clear that not enough is being done by any of the actors to protect the children of Burma.


We entreat the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to make specific reference to the deplorable situation facing Burmese children in the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council. It is obvious that the government of Burma is not adhering to Security Council resolutions on children and armed conflict.


Children from ethnic groups, which are directly bearing the brunt of four decades of conflict, are particularly vulnerable to the widespread and systematic human rights violations occurring in their areas. As this report evidences, these children are subject to direct military violence. They are frequently displaced and forced to live as internally displaced persons or refugees without security, healthcare, education or adequate nutrition. Children from ethnic groups are frequently used as forced labor or as porters. They are used as human minesweepers. They are frequently victims of assault and rape. They are vulnerable to trafficking for sex work and other forms of exploitation both in Burma and neighboring countries.


Girls are suffering disproportionately during the armed conflict given the widespread and systematic use of rape and sexual abuse as a weapon of war. Rape and sexual assault is prevalent throughout the conflict areas in Burma. The government must answer to the findings of the recent ‘License to Rape’ report. The UN must be allowed to investigate these findings with the full cooperation of the government. Impunity of these crimes must end (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 8(c) and 9(a)).


As UNSC 1379 recognizes, armed conflict exacerbates the problem of HIV/AIDS. The alarming incidence of HIV prevalence and high numbers of AIDS orphans will worsen unless the government takes direct, concrete action. In launching the Joint Action Plan on HIV/AIDS, UN agencies have shown a willingness to tackle this issue in a coordinated manner. However, the measures outlined in this plan will not reach the most vulnerable populations without concerted cooperation on the part of the government or until fighting stops.


In line with UNSC 1379, corporate actors in Burma, especially those extracting natural resources such as oil and gas in conflict areas, should stop doing business with the government as the government clearly does not meet its obligations to protect children in those areas (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 9(c)).


Orphans and street children are particularly vulnerable to forced conscription into the government armed forces. UN agencies should coordinate their programs to try and protect this vulnerable group thereby reducing child recruitment in Burma (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 11(b)). As most child soldier deserters shelter on the Thai-Burma border, UN agencies should assist these deserters by providing adequate resources for their rehabilitation (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 11(c)).


The government should be urged to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 9(e)) and to observe the requirements of Burmese law, which stipulates the recruitment age into the armed forces as 18.


The government should be urged to meet the needs of former child soldiers. As far as our office is aware, not one of the existing 17 cease-fire agreements takes into account the need to demobilize and rehabilitate child soldiers (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 8(e)).


Given the extensive documentation of child labor in Burma, the government should be encouraged to ratify/accede to the International Labor Organization Convention No. 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 9(e)).


All actors should take responsibility to ensure that Burmese children are not trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, forced labor, sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 13(b)).


Neighboring countries providing temporary asylum should grant Burmese children legal status to ensure they are not stateless and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. These children should have appropriate access to healthcare, education and social services (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 8(b)).


UN agencies and international NGOs must be allowed access by the government to provide assistance and protection to internally displaced children (per UNSC 1379, paragraph 8(b)). All parties to the conflict should be urged to provide peace corridors during national child immunization weeks. This could pave the way to a nationwide ceasefire to expand the provision of humanitarian assistance to children affected by the armed conflict.


All parties concerned in the conflict should be encouraged to put children on the agenda for dialogue since children are most affected by this protracted armed conflict.


[1] Central Statistics Organization supported by UNICEF.

[2] Asian Development Bank, ‘Asian Development Outlook 2002’, April 2002, p. 17, found at: http://www.adb.org/Documents/Books/ADO/2002/se_asia.pdf. [hereinafter, ‘ADB 2002 report’].

[3] International Crisis Group, ‘Politics of Humanitarian Assistance’, 2 April 2002, Appendix A at page 30, citing UNDP, Human Development Report, various years. Found at: http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/asia/burma_myanmar/reports/A400602_02042002-2.pdf [hereinafter ‘ICG humanitarian assistance report’].

[4] See, ‘Report on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, prepared by Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, in accordance with Commission resolution 2001/15’, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2002/45, page 25, para. 99 [hereinafter ‘Pinheiro’s CHR 2002 report’].

[5] UNDP, Human Development Report, 2000, at page 188.

[6] See ICG humanitarian assistance report, Appendix A at page 30, citing UN/Myanmar, Country paper, January 2002 [internal working paper].

[7] Ibid, citing UNICEF, Children and Women in Myanmar, April 2001.

[8] Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Dept. of Health Planning supported by UNICEF).

[9] See International Crisis Group, ‘Myanmar: The HIV/AIDS Crisis’, 2 April 2002, at page 2. Found at: http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/asia/burma_myanmar/reports/A400601_02042002.pdf [hereinafter ‘ICG HIV/AIDS report’]. See also, UNAIDS/WHO, ‘Myanmar: Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, 2000 Update (revised)’, found at: http://www.unaids.org/hivaidsinfo/statistics/fact_sheets/pdfs/Myanmar_en.pdf.

[10] ICG humanitarian assistance report, citing UN/Myanmar, Country Paper, January 2002 [internal working paper].

[11] Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Dept. of Health Planning supported by UNICEF).

[12] Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Dept. of Health Planning supported by UNICEF).

[13] UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, at page 196.

[14] UNAIDS/WHO, ‘Myanmar: Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, 2000 Update (revised)’.

[15] UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, at page 196.

[16] See Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers Global Report 2001, found at: http://www.child-soldiers.org/ [hereinafter ‘Child soldiers coalition report’].

Child Soldiers coalition report.

[17] Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term used for any harm that is perpetrated on a person against her/his will that has a negative impact on the physical and/or psychological health, development and identity of the person and is the result of gendered power relationships determined by social roles ascribed by males and females. Violence may be physical, sexual, psychological, economic, or socio-cultural, and is almost always and across all cultures disparately impacting women and children.

[18] See Jeanne Ward, "If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced and Post-conflict Settings.  A Global Overview: Situation in Burma and among Burmese refugees in Thailand ", (Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium, April 2002) found at: http://www.womenscommission.org/reports/wc-GBV-2002.pdf

[19] See Landmine Monitor Report 2001: Burma. Found at: http://www.icbl.org/lm/2001/burma/#Heading10610. The number of landmine victims remains unknown as there is currently no centralized agency collecting statistics on landmine incidents or survivors within Burma.

[20] This section draws upon the U.S Department of State, ‘Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Burma’, (by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), March 4, 2002 [hereinafter ‘U.S. State Department’s 2002 human rights report’].

[21] Other active insurgent groups include the Chin National Front, the Mon Restoration Army, the Naga National Council, the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, the Arakan National Organization, and the Karen National Liberation Army.

[22] 50 million is a current estimate given Burma has had no census since 1983.

[23] See, ICG humanitarian assistance report at page 9 quoting World Bank, Myanmar: An Economic and Social Assessment, 1999 [draft], p. 11.

[24] ICG humanitarian assistance report, at p. 10, citing UN Country Paper.

[25] See Pinheiro’s CHR 2002 report, page 25, para. 99.

[26] See ‘CEACR 2001: Observations Concerning ILO Convention No. 29, Forced Labor (1930) – Myanmar’, found at: http://webfusion.ilo.org/public/db/standards/normes/appl/appl-displaycomment.cfm?hdroff=1&ctry=1670&year=2001&type=O&conv=C029&lang=EN.

[27] This pipeline, which cost nearly US$1.2 billion, spans 669 kilometers. It begins off Burma’s west coast from the offshore Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea, cuts through the Tenasserim region in southern Burma and ends in Thailand.  See EarthRights International website for details: www.earthrights.org.

[28] See Free Burma Coalition website at: www.freeburmacoalition.org for further information on disinvestments and ongoing campaigns. Dissatisfaction includes level of corruption and inadequate infrastucture.

[29] Far Eastern Economic Review, ‘Burma Urged to Lift Trade Ban’, Issue cover-dated April 25, 2002.

[31] See Mizzima News, ‘Burma’s military junta losing its shirt’, 6 June 2002. Found at: www.mizzima.com.

[32] Copy of letter is with author.

[33] Asian Development Bank, “Economic Update. Myanmar”, November 2001, p. 8.  Found at: http://www.adb.org/Documents/Economic_Updates/MYA/in259_01.pdf [hereinafter ‘ADB Nov 2001 report].

[34] Ibid.

[35] See UNFPA, ‘United Nations Population Fund Proposed Projects and Programs: Recommendation by the Executive Director; Proposed Special Assistance to Myanmar’, 13 July 2001 (UN Doc. DP/FPA/MMR), at para. 4 [hereinafter ‘UNFPA 2001 report’].

[36] ICG humanitarian assistance report, at p. 10 quoting UN Country Paper, January 2002.

[37] See UNICEF, Children and Women in Myanmar, April 2001, found at http://www.unicef.org/myanmar/pages/a3.html, at p. 2.

[38] See UNFPA 2001 report, para. 5 and UNAIDS/WHO 2000 (revised) report, p. 3.

[39] ADB Nov 2001 report, at p. 6.

[40] ICG humanitarian assistance report, at p. 11.

[41] ADB Nov 2001 report, at p. 6.

[42] See ICG HIV/AIDS report, at p. 8.

[43] Pinheiro’s CHR 2002 report, at para. 94.

[44] See ICG HIV/AIDS report, overview.

[45] UNAIDS, Report on Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic, June 2000.

[46] Dr C Beyrer, ‘War in the Blood: Sex, Politics and AIDS in Southeast Asia’, 1998.

[47] ICG HIV/AIDS report, at p. 2 and UNAIDS/WHO 2000 (revised) report, p. 3.

[48] ICG HIV/AIDS report, at p. 3.

[49] U.S. Agency for International Development, ‘HIV/AIDS in Burma: Assessment and Recommendations for Assistance’, April 8, 2002, at page 14 [hereinafter ‘USAID HIV/AIDS 2002 report’].

[50] USAID HIV/AIDS 2002 report, at page 15-17.

[51] USAID HIV/AIDS 2002 report, at page 6.

[52] The UN agencies are: UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, UNDCP. All UN agencies are coordinated through UNAIDS. The INGOs are: the ICRC; World Vision; CARE; Save the Children (UK); Population Service International; Medecins du Monde; Medecins sans Frontieres (Holland); Marie Stopes International; World Concern, and; the Population Council.

[53] See ICG HIV/AIDS report, at p. 6.

[54] See U.S State Department’s 2002 human rights report, section on children.

[55] U.S State Department’s 2002 human rights report, section on children.

[56] ICG humanitarian assistance report, at p. 9.

[57] In Burma, primary school is for children aged 6-9; middle school from 10-13; and high school from 14-15.

[58] U.S State Department’s 2002 human rights report, section on children.

[59] ICG humanitarian assistance report, at p. 10, footnote 44.

[60] UN Working Group, Human Development in Myanmar (Yangon: UNDP, 1998), at p. 7.

[61] See Women’s Organizations of Burma Shadow Report to the 22nd Session of CEDAW-New York, January 2000, at p. 3 and 21.

[62] Ibid, at p. 21.

[63] NCGUB, Human Rights Yearbook Burma 2000-2001

[64] EarthRights International, “Valued Less Than a Milk Tin: Discrimination Against Ethnic Minorities in Burma by the Military Regime”, 2001, pp. 23-4. Found at: www.earthrights.org.

[65] NCGUB, Human Rights Yearbook Burma 2000-2001.

[66] ICG humanitarian assistance report, quoting UN/Myanmar, Food Security in Myanmar: A Proposal to Deal with Natural Shocks, January 2000, internal report, and the People’s Tribunal on Food Scarcity and Militarization in Burma, ‘Voice of the Hungry Nation’, (found at: www.hrschool.org/tribunal/index.htm), at p. 10.

[67] See, written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Center, COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, Fifty-seventh session, UN Doc No. E/CN.4/2001/NGO/108, 6 February 2001 and ‘Voice of a Hungry Nation’.


[68] See, Shan Human Rights Foundation’s report, ‘LICENSE TO RAPE: The Burmese military regime's use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State’, June 2002, found at: http://www.shanland.org/shrf/License_to_Rape/license_to_rape.htm [hereinafter ‘License to Rape Report’].

[69] The KHRG have published numerous reports on forced relocation and displacement in Karen State. See www.khrg.org for comprehensive listing of reports under thematic and summary reports.

[70] See www.burmalibrary.org under ‘I’ for internally displaced reports for ‘Internally Displaced in Myanmar’, July 1999 and ‘Conflict and Displacement in Karenni: the Need for Considered Responses’; May 2000.

[71] Their seminal report is entitled ‘Dispossessed: a report on forced relocation and extrajudicial killings in Shan State, Burma, April 1998, found at http://www.shanland.org/shrf/dispossessed/dispossessed.htm.

[72] See U.S. Committee Current Country Report at: http://www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/easia_pacific/burma.htm.

[73] See,’ Fear and Hope: Displaced Burmese Women in Burma and Thailand’, March 2000, found at: http://www.womenscommission.org/reports/womenscommission-thai-burma-report.PDF.  

[74] For example, see ‘Myanmar/Thailand: Nowhere to run’ (Amnesty press release), 7 December 2001, AI Index ASA 16/024/2000; ‘Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities: Targets of Repression’, 13 July 2001, found at: http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/print/ASA160142001?OpenDocument; and ‘Myanmar: Atrocities in the Shan State’, 15 April 1998, found at: http://www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/print/ASA160051998?OpenDocument.

[75] ‘A Brutal Reign of Terror Update: Central Dooplaya District, Karen State, Burma’, 22 June 2002, report with author. See Appendix 5 for incident documenting the murder of children.

[76] HRW 2001.

[77] UN General Assembly, 22 August 2000, Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar (UN symbol: A/55/359); U.S Department of State Report, February 2001, section 2.d. 

[78] Pinheiro’s CHR 2002 report, at para. 100.

[79] Source: Global IDP Project, Norwegian Refugee Council, at www.db.idpproject.org.

[80] See Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland, 10 Years for the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: Past, Present and Future, March 2002, at p. 8 & 12. Found at: http://www.msf.org/source/downloads/2002/rohingya.doc.

[81] Burmese Border Consortium (BBC) Relief Program, July to December 2001 Report, at p. 3.

[82] Ibid, at p. 52.

[83] See Nyo Nyo, ‘Burmese Children in Thailand: Legal Aspects’, LEGAL ISSUES ON BURMA JOURNAL No. 10 – December 2001, Burma Lawyers’ Council. Copy with author.

[84] Source: The BBC Relief Program, Program Report: January to June 2001; and Far Eastern Economic Review, ‘Burma Refugees Swell Thai Camps’, October 25, 2001.

[85] See Amnesty International, ‘Myanmar/Thailand: Nowhere to run’ (Press release), 7 December 2001.

[86] South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center , Survival, Dignity, and Democracy:

Burmese Refugees in India, 1997.

[87] South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, Refugee Protection in India, 1997.

[88] Internally displaced villager from ‘H village’, Shwegyin township (Interview #72, 2/00), in KHRG, ‘Flight, Hunger and Survival: Repression and Displacement in the Villages of Papun & Nyaunglebin districts’, October 2001, found at: www.khrg.org.

[90] License to Rape Report, at Appendix 1.

[91] See the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (BURMA)’s report, ‘Violations against Mon Women and Children, 2002’ (which your office should have received a copy of), and; KHRG ‘The Situation of Children in Burma’, 1 May 1996 attached to this report.

[92] See U.S. State Department, ‘Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report’, (Released by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons) June 5, 2002. Found at: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2002/ [hereinafter ‘U.S. State Department’s trafficking report].

[93] See Open Society Institute, ‘Burma: Country in Crisis, Women’, at www.soros.org/burma/CRISIS/women.html.

[94] See Women’s Organizations of Burma Shadow Report to the 22nd Session of CEDAW-New York, January 2000, at p. 30 [hereinafter ‘Shadow CEDAW report].

[95] Shadow CEDAW report, at p. 30. The legislation includes: The Suppression of Prostitution Act, 1949; the Law Amending the Suppression of Prostitution Act, 1949; The Child Law 1993, and; The Penal Code 1860.

[96] See U.S. State Department’s trafficking report and U.S. State Department’s 2002 human rights report, sections on children and trafficking.

[97] See Shadow CEDAW report, at pp. 30-31.

[98] “Par-Kin-Paunt” is a Burmese word that literally means “first opening” or “deflowering” and refers to virgin girls who are new to prostitution and who are free from HIV/AIDS). 

[99] This section is taken from the U.S. State Department’s trafficking report and U.S. State Department’s 2002 human rights report, section on trafficking unless otherwise specified.

[100] ‘Situation of human rights in Myanmar: Note by the Secretary-General’, 56th Session UN Doc. A/56/312, 20 August 2001, at paras. 67-68.

[101] Child soldiers coalition report, found at: http://www.child-soldiers.org/.

[102] Interview with Burman male #039, ‘We are not free to work for ourselves: Forced Labor and other Human Rights Abuses in Burma’ (January – May 2002), found at: http://www.earthrights.org/pubs/FL2002.pdf.

[103] See KHRG, ‘Abuse Under Orders: The SPDC and DKBA Armies Through the Eyes of their Soldiers’, 3/2001, found at: http://www.ibiblio.org/freeburma/humanrights/khrg/archive/khrg2001/khrg0101.html.

[104] Ibid, Soe Tint (M,18), Lance Corporal from LIB #504, Papun District, KHRG Interview #6.

[105] See KHRG, ‘Northeastern Pa’an District: Villagers Fleeing Forced Labor Establishing SPDC Army Camps, Building Access Roads and Clearing Landmines’, 20 February 2001 found at: http://www.ibiblio.org/freeburma/humanrights/khrg/archive/khrg2001/khrg01u1.html, and ‘Flight, Hunger and Survival: Landmines’ (October 2001) found at: www.ibiblio.org/freeburma/humanrights/khrg/archive/khrg2001/khrg0103c.html#Landmines.

[106] See Landmine Monitor Report 2000, at http://www.igc.org/nonviolence/burmamines/lm2.html and Yeshua Moser-Paungsuwan ‘Seeds of Destruction’ Burma Debate, Vol. VII, No. 4 Winter 2000/01 found at www.burmaproject.org.

[107] See Landmine Monitor 2001 Report: Toward a Mine-Free World, Country Report for Burma (Myanmar): www.icbl.org/lm/2001/burma/.

[108] See Landmine Monitor 2001 Report: www.icbl.org/lm/2001/burma/. Also see Andrew Selth, ‘Landmines in Burma, The Military Dimension’, November 2000, found at: http://www.burmaproject.org/burmadebate/winter00landmines.html and; Stephen Goose, “Burma: One of the World’s Landmine ‘Black Spots’”, October 2000, found at: www.irrawaddy.org/database/2000/vol8.10/landmine.html.