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SCMP-Children forced to break rocks

Subject: SCMP-Children forced to break rocks: report 

SCMP-Wednesday  May 19  1999
The Mekong Region

Children forced to break rocks: report

Two-hundred children, some as young as seven or eight, have been forced to
break rocks on a main road in Burma's Shan state, a human rights report

Burmese army officers told their parents that since the children were "idle
with nothing better to do", they should toil alongside their parents on the
Taunggyi to Kentung highway, the Shan Human Rights Foundation said

The involuntary labour teams are made up of ethnic Shan who have been kicked
out of their villagers by the military and forced to concentrate near
Kunhing town over the past two years.

They, and the rest of the 300,000 estimated to have been relocated in the
southern Shan state, are vulnerable targets for forced labour.

Observers say this is extremely hard on them because - having lost their
farms - they already find it difficult to scratch a living by hiring
themselves out as day labour or cultivating new land.

"A lot of people have tried to flee from the area. They say the army doesn't
care what happens to them as long as the road is made ready for the rainy
season," a foundation spokesman said.

The army told the families that if they were not going to send their
children to school they must take up work on the road.

"Even if there were schools nearby they probably wouldn't have enough money
to pay the fees. It's very unfair," the spokesman said.

Burmese officials repeatedly denied at last week's Association for Southeast
Asian Nations (Asean) labour ministers' conference that forced labour
existed in Burma. They said it was voluntary.

The conference refused to condemn child labour outright. The Asean
secretary-general, Rodolfo Severino, said: "Child labour is ingrained in
some of the traditional economic processes in many developing countries. It
is a matter of education and poverty eradication."

Burma's powerful intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, said
that because voluntary labour had created "wrong impressions", the
authorities would pay anyone who worked on an infrastructure project.