Child labor is widespread in Burma/Myanmar. Despite a compulsory education law, almost 40 percent of children never enroll in school, and only 25 to 35 percent complete the 5-year primary school course. According to ILAB, Burmese children are reported to have been forced to work in all areas of the economy, including work to help produce the following products: bamboo, beans, bricks jade, rice, rubber, rubies, sugarcane and teak. The country has just begun to take steps to remove child soldiers from the ranks of the military. The vast majority of the estimated 60,000 illegal workers in the Thai commercial sex industry are believed to be Burmese, including many children who are victims of human trafficking.

Today is the Day to Think about the Plight of the World’s 300,000 Child Soldiers

Today is an important day if you care about the welfare of children. Advocates have named February 12 “International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers” to highlight one of the worst forms of child labor. It’s hard to imagine that in 2013 the use of child soldiers is alive and thriving, but the BBC estimates that there are 300,000 child soldiers internationally. This number includes children of elementary school age who are handed automatic weapons and asked to kill, as well as others who are used for slave labor to support armies. Since January 2011, child soldiers have been used in at least 19 countries.

Many of the children suffer the worst forms of psychological warfare from their captors, who in many cases break them down by forcing them to kill or maim their friends or family. Many girls are sexually assaulted and forced to serve as sexual slaves. Many child victims are given drugs to keep them compliant. Their years of enforced service often produce intense psychological scarring that makes it hard to return to their communities. In some cases, they are shunned by their villages. Hear one girl’s compelling story in this YouTube video.

The Child Labor Coalition has tracked dozens of stories regarding the use of child soldiers over the last year and engages with its members to perform advocacy to reduce the use of child soldiers. Most recently, the warfare in Mali led to the recruitment of child soldiers, including children as young as 12. In early January, the United Nations decried the use of child soldiers in the Central African Republic, and in India, reports emerged that the militant group, the Garo National Liberation Army was using children in a variety of roles to support combat, including possibly the use of armed children. In early December, 2012, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on two “March 23 (M23)” leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for allegedly using child soldiers.

Not all the news has been bad. In June 2012, Burma made significant strides in reducing its use of child soldiers when it released an action plan to tackle the problem. In 2012, Yemeni authorities said they were committed to stopping the use of children in the military.

The challenges governments face to end the use of child soldiers are often formidable, however. A February 6th Huffington Post blog by Jake Scobey-Thal noted that despite some progress, child soldiers are still being used in Burma and cited the International Labour Organization that their numbers may be as high as 5,000.

Two members of the Child Labor Coalition, World Vision and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have been leaders in the effort to pressure the US government into abiding by a congressional law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits military aid to countries that use child soldiers. They’ve also provided a valuable service with early warnings when civil strife reaches the point that children begin to be dragged into military conflicts as they have been recently in Mali, Syria and the DRC.

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Burma/Myanmar Releases 42 Child Soldiers, Vows to End Practice

September 05, 2012 [from Voice of America]

The Burmese military has released 42 child soldiers from its ranks, as part of efforts to end the recruitment of underage fighters in the Southeast Asian country.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper says army officials handed the children over to their parents and guardians at a ceremony in Rangoon on Monday.

The newspaper says Burmese officials also have vowed to rid the armed forces of all child soldiers within 18 months, in accordance with a United Nations agreement signed in June.

The U.N. says at least eight other armed groups, apart from the government armed forces, recruit and use child soldiers in Burma, including several rebel and separatist groups.

Since taking power last year, Burma’s nominally civilian government has undertaken several reforms, including easing media restrictions, allowing more freedom to opposition groups, and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

But rights groups and activists have said that, despite the political and economic reforms, there have been no significant changes in human rights abuses carried out by Burma’s military, particularly in rebel-dominated areas. … Read the rest