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Rights Group Accuses Burmese Army of Drafting Children - 2002-10-16


A human rights group says Burma drafts children into the military, where they are forced to participate in mass executions and human rights abuses.

Human Right's Watch says children as young as 11-years-old are forced into the Burmese army. In a new report, the rights organization estimates as many as 20 percent of all soldiers in Burma are under 18 years old. The report says that armed ethnic groups fighting the military government also use child soldiers, but not as extensively as the government. The report says military recruiters take boys from markets, train and bus stations, and other public places. They threaten the children with jail if they refuse to join the army. According to the report, the boys are sent to military camps where the are routinely beaten and severely punished if they try to escape. The children are allowed no contact with their families. The child soldiers are forced into combat. They also are pressed to commit human rights abuses, including rounding up villagers for forced labor, burning homes, and participating in mass executions. The report draws on interviews with more than three dozen current and former child soldiers. Burma's military has about 350,000 soldiers and Human Rights Watch estimates around 70,000 of them are under 18-years-old. International law bars the use of soldiers under the age of 15. Human Rights Watch calls on the Burmese government and on rebel groups in the country to stop using soldiers under the age of 18. The rights organization also asks that Burma cooperate with international aid organizations in reuniting child soldiers with their families and reintegrating them into the community. Human Rights Watch also wants other governments to press Burma and its opposition groups to stop forcing boys into the military.

The Human Rights Watch report came out just a few days before a United Nations human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, visits Burma. Mr. Pinheiro arrives Thursday to investigate allegations the Burmese military raped hundreds of women from an ethnic minority group opposed to the national government.

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