Bangkok – The Thai government is exposing children to “significant risks” by recruiting them in the war against Muslim insurgents in the south of the country, a coalition of humanitarian non-governmental organisations alleged on Thursday.
The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) said children between the ages of 9 and 17 were taking part in weapons training under the government-established Village Defence Militias, known locally by the Thai initials Chor Ror Bor.
“Children under the age of 18 are exposed to significant risks due to their association with Chor Ror Bor,” the coalition said.
“The militias are armed with a mixture of shotguns and automatic weapons,” the coalition’s Arachapon Nimitkulpon said at a press conference. “On occasions the militias are required to take part in military operations,” including searches for insurgent suspects.
Over the past four years, more than 4,000 soldiers, militia members, police, Muslim insurgents and civilians have been killed in violent incidents in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.
The Village Defence Militias were set up in 1985 as a successor to a network of local village volunteer groups established in the 1960s to combat communist insurgents.
In a report issued Thursday, the coalition and the JPF said field research in southern Thailand in mid-2010 found children were formal members of the government militias or were performing some duties associated with militia membership in 13 of the 19 villages visited by researchers.
“They patrol the village, man checkpoints and guard sites vulnerable to attack. They may also be required to assist the local police or the military to identify suspects, including suspected members of armed groups, and on occasion are required to participate in military operations in the surrounding area,” said the report.
It called on the government to “explicitly criminalize” the use of children under 18 by the armed forces, paramilitaries and Village Defence Militias.
Coalition director Victoria Adam cited an incident in which two children were killed in a military operation.
She said evidence indicated Muslim insurgents also were using child soldiers “in a range of different scenarios and activities” related to the southern separatist insurgency.
“Children have suffered greatly because of the armed violence in the south and a more comprehensive strategy is needed to protect them,” Adam said. “Any military activity is detrimental to children.”