Childhood Interrupted – Myanmar Must Do More to Protect Children from Conflict and Abuses

On March 28, 2018, a Yangon court sentenced a former child soldier, Aung Ko Htway, to two years in prison with hard labor for giving an interview to the media outlet Radio Free Asia in July 2017 about his abduction into the Myanmar Army at age 14, and subsequent harsh training experience.  Abducted by a Myanmar[1] Army officer in 2005 from Yangon central railway station, Aung Ko Htway was sold at a military market in Mingaladon Township, enlisted in the military, and sent to a military training camp. In contrast to Aung Ko Htway’s sentencing, the military officer who abducted him has not been punished. As a joint statement by 154 civil society organizations in Myanmar calling for Aung Ko Htway’s release pointed out, it is his recruitment and inhumane treatment that is a crime, not his exercise of free speech in speaking out.

Children in Myanmar continue to suffer from conflict-related violence and abuses, including systematic forced recruitment into the Myanmar Army and some ethnic armed organizations, arrest by the Myanmar Army on suspicion of association with unlawful organizations, and injury or death from landmines and shelling of civilian areas including churches and schools. Despite the seriousness of their needs, child victims are not given any support or rehabilitation by the Government, and the few who speak out are targeted with legal reprisals. At an early age, many children learn that the Myanmar Government cannot or will not protect them from the Myanmar Army, which continues to abuse children and other civilians with impunity. The judicial system is no more a source of protection or for enforcement of Myanmar’s legal obligations, as it continues to side with the Myanmar Army and Myanmar Government in cases against those who dare to speak out or seek justice.

Children in Myanmar continue to suffer from conflict-related violence and abuses, including systematic forced recruitment into the Myanmar Army and some ethnic armed organizations, arrest by the Myanmar Army on suspicion of association with unlawful organizations, and injury or death from landmines and shelling of civilian areas including churches and schools.

Although Myanmar is a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, it has taken few effective measures to protect and provide a remedy for children affected by armed conflict, and in particular those who experience human rights violations such as forced recruitment, torture, killing, arbitrary arrest and rape and other forms of sexual violence. Myanmar signed a Joint Action Plan with the UN in 2012, committing to ending the recruitment of child soldiers and to releasing those already recruited. Despite these commitments, however, recruitment of children has still been documented as recently as 2016, though the frequency has reduced over the past years. Hundreds of children have been released from the Myanmar Army, but many suffer serious challenges in reintegration into society, for which they receive little to no support. Victims of other violations receive even less attention.

In addition to recruiting children, the Myanmar Army treats children in ethnic areas as potential threats. In 2017, Mai Cho Min Htwe, a 14 year old ethnic Ta’ang boy, was arrested by the Myanmar Army after a search of his phone at a checkpoint allegedly revealed a photo of him in the uniform of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). He was held by the Army for seven days, and convicted on the same day he was charged. In addition to various violations of his right to fair trial and freedom from arbitrary arrest, the treatment of a child as an enemy combatant instead of an alleged victim of forced recruitment goes against Myanmar’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Children are also particularly vulnerable to landmines and other explosive remnants of war, as they may be more likely to pick up unknown objects and less likely to recognize a landmine. The UN country task force on children and armed conflict in Myanmar, in its report  from December 2017, reported for the previous year “76 incidents of killing and maiming, in which 41 children had been killed and 104 maimed” due to armed conflict, of which 39 incidents resulted from landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war. On the International Day for Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, April 4, 2018, the Karen Human Rights Group called attention to reports of new landmines being laid, and called for all armed actors to work toward a ban on new landmines, a consultative process of demining, and provision of free healthcare for victims of landmines and other effects of conflict and abuse. An EU statement on the same day made similar calls, noting that children are among those most vulnerable to the impact of landmines.

The charging and sentencing of Aung Ko Htway for speaking about a problem which has already been acknowledged by the Myanmar Army demonstrates that the country has still not come to terms with the Army’s use of child soldiers, despite steps made in preventing more recruitment of children. The continued threat of landmines and other explosives, and the continued arrest of ethnic civilians, demonstrates the dangers faced by children and other civilians in conflict-affected regions of Myanmar, and the Myanmar Government’s failure to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society. Myanmar must take further action to fulfill its commitments in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocol, and various agreements with the United Nations to address the issue of child soldiers in a holistic manner. This must include not only protection from abuse, but justice and rehabilitation for those who have been abused, and protection from retaliation including legal charges against those who speak out about the abuse. These steps should start with an unconditional pardon and release for Aung Ko Htway.

The charging and sentencing of Aung Ko Htway for speaking about a problem which has already been acknowledged by the Myanmar Army demonstrates that the country has still not come to terms with the Army’s use of child soldiers, despite steps made in preventing more recruitment of children.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar Civil Society Organization’s Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg
By Burma Monitor, Center for Social Integrity, Equality Myanmar, Myanmar Human Rights Educator Network, MIDO and Phandeeyar

Local EU Statement on the occasion of International Mine Awareness Day
By Delegation of the European Union to Myanmar

Myanmar: Quash Conviction of Former Child Soldier
By Human Rights Watch

KHRG Statement on the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action
By Karen Human Rights Group

KNU Position Statement regarding Military Related Issues Meeting
By Karen National Union

တပ္ပုိင္းဆုိင္ရာ ညွိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြးေရးအစည္းအေ၀းႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္သည့္ KNU – ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသားအစည္းအရုံး၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Karen National Union

UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief: “All people affected by humanitarian crises in Myanmar must get the assistance and protection they need”
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

“ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံရွိ လူသားခ်င္းစာနာမႈဆိုင္ရာ အကူအညီလိုအပ္သည့္ ေဘးဒုကၡ အေျခအေနမ်ား ေၾကာင့္ ထိခိုက္ ခံစားရသူအားလံုးအေနျဖင့္ ၄င္းတို႔လိုအပ္ေသာ ကာကြယ္ေစာင့္ေရွာက္မႈႏွင့္ အကူအညီမ်ားကို ရရွိရမည္” ဟု ကုလသမဂၢ လူသားခ်င္းစာနာမႈဆုိင္ရာ ဒုတိယ အႀကီးအကဲေျပာၾကား
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Statement on Myanmar Official Says Hpa-An Coal Plant Cancelled
By 131 Civil Society Organizations

ဘားအံ ၿမိဳ႕နယ္အတြင္း တည္ေဆာက္မည့္ ေက်ာက္မီးေသြး ဓါတ္အားေပးစက္ရံုုအား ျမန္မာအစိုုးရမွ ပယ္ဖ်က္ေၾကာင္း ေျပာဆိုုခ်က္အေပၚ သေဘာထား ထုုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By  131 Civil Society Organizations

reports

Reports

Kyaukpyu: Connecting China to the Indian Ocean
By Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ongoing Burma Army Logging Threatens Peace Efforts in Karenni State
By Karenni Civil Society Network

ျမန္မာ့တပ္မေတာ္ သစ္ထုတ္လုပ္မႈေၾကာင့္ ကရင္နီျပည္နယ္၏ ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးႀကိဳးပမ္းမႈ ၿခိမ္းေျခာက္ခံရျခင္း
By Karenni Civil Society Network

“Tell them we’re human” What Canada and the world can do about the Rohingya crisis
By Prime Minister Trudeau’s Special Envoy to Myanmar / Government of Canada


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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