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ILO: Forced Labor Still Widespread in Burma

  • Ron Corben

The United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) says Burma has made limited progress in curtailing the use of forced labor.

Steve Marshall, the International Labor Organization's liaison officer in Burma, says over the past three years there have been "significant steps" toward eliminating forced labor in the country. The most progress has been in private organizations and the civil administration.

"To an extent, the government has passed laws which say that forced labor is illegal, which is a very important first step of cours," said Marshall. "The government has undertaken quite a lot of educational activity among local authorities particularly within the military as to the law and the responsibilities under the law."

Burma's military government has long used forced labor in everything from building roads to carrying military supplies through the jungle. At its extremes, there have been reports of people being pressed to walk through mine fields as human minesweepers.

Rights groups say thousands of Burmese are forced to work against their will, including children and the elderly. Many suffer abuse, including gang rape and murder.

Marshall said Thursday in Bangkok the military particularly continues to use forced labor.

"There are some indicators within the civilian side of the administration, which is very good," said Marshall. "In the military side of the administration, there is no clear evidence of any change whatsoever."

One area of progress has been a new system that allows citizens to complain to the ILO. That has helped the rescue children forced to join the military.

In its new report, the ILO report says the government now regularly discharges under-age soldiers if complaints are filed.

Some armed ethnic groups also use child soldiers and Burma's government has allowed the ILO to talk with them to try to end the practice.

Marshall says there are moves to write new labor laws to allow trade unions once a new parliament is convened after elections later this year.

Regional political analysts say Burma's government appears to be taking a more cautious approach in dealing with labor and economic issues ahead of the elections. The vote will be the first in 20 years and is expected to place the government under the international spotlight.

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