Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict of the UN, Leila Zerrougui led a press conference in Yangon on July 16 to address the end of her first visit to Myanmar saying that work has to been done and gaps need to be filled.
There is a need to strengthen age verification during recruitment – which is 18 – and push the importance of centralised recruitment,prevention of violence against children in the military curriculum and a long-term plan to strengthen the birth certificate process that UNICEF is helping strengthen.
“It is important that recruitment of children is criminalized for any person including civilian brokers or armed groups, anybody that recruits a child must be held accountable, we’ve discussed this issue with authorities to include a criminalization in the law for anyone who recruits a child,” said Ms. Zerrougui.
Recruiters prowl in broad daylight employing children as ‘drivers’ then take them to Tatmadaw recruitment centres with falsified documents. After being recruited children face the threat of being beaten and imprisonment if they attempt to flee service.
In June, Child Soldiers International released a report confirming that there has been an increase to 91 cases in the January - March period of 2015 compared to 84 cases in the previous period from October - December of 2014. In the same report, they demanded the Myanmar government to adhere to the requirements in the Joint Action Policy (JAP) signed in 2012.
Ms. Zerrougui said that there are two important issues that could turn the page on child recruitment:
Ensure those recruited are not detained, “we are facing a situation where the recruiter escaped accountability and the children could be arrested for desertion and they have to go through a painful process before being released.”
Secondly, that the government and civil society address the root causes, “we are not addressing the root causes that also pushed children to be recruited…it is important to identify where the vulnerability of children are and how we can protect them and one of these of course is education.”
The Special Reps first visit to Myanmar took her to Naypyitaw where she met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister of Defence, Lieutenant General Wai Lwin to discuss the continued implementation of the JAP, including social welfare ministers, an advisor to the peace process and the interior office of the attorney general.
During the talk Ms. Zerrougui noted that seven non-state actors are listed on the United Nations Secretary-General for recruitment and use of children in Myanmar, they are:
Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army South and the United Wa State Army.
She also addressed the issue that those not on the list are likely to use child soldiers.
Ms. Zerrougui visited Myitkyina where she met with ex-child soldiers and a representative from the Kachin Independence Army. She intends to meet with representatives from the KNU, KNLA and KNPP, while hoping to meet with the others on the list.
The JAPcalled for the release of all child soldiers and to end the practice of child recruitment from state and non-state armed groups, and to prevent five other violations, these are killing or maiming of children, abduction of children, attacks against schools and hospitals, sexual violence against children and denial of humanitarian access to children.
In 2014, UNICEF and the Myanmar government launched a campaign called “Children Not Soldiers” to promote the JAP and the ongoing effort to end the use of children in conflict.
The International Labour Organisation’s 1999 convention, 182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention was ratified by the Myanmar government in 2013 and came into force in December 2014, but is yet to have the legislative framework put in place.
A draft of the legislative frameworks of the convention is expected at the end of the month. Liaison Officer for ILO, Steve Marshall told Mizzima that the frameworks are in a developed stage.
Once in place the convention calls for the government to stop any form of labour under a branch that consists of; slavery, trafficking, forced compulsory labour (including recruitment into armed forces) and anything that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children.”
In the long-term the conventionexpects state actors to undergo methods to prevent the worst forms of child labour from taking place.