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Human Rights Groups Urge UN Security Council to Protect Burmese Children

Human rights groups are calling on the U.N. Security Council to take swift action to protect thousands of children in Burma who are raped, abducted, and recruited as soldiers by both the government armed forces and ethnic minority militia groups.

In a new report, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said tens of thousands of children in Burma are associated with armed forces or groups - particularly the government army - in what may be the highest rate of child soldiers anywhere in the world.

Watchlist Director Julia Freedson said the report documents a series of violations against children, including killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks on schools and forced displacement.

"This report charges the U.N. Security Council of remaining largely silent on these issues, despite evidence from both U.N. sources and local humanitarian and human rights organizations," she said.

Watchlist and other rights groups are calling on the Security Council to do more to protect children in Burma -- which is also known as Myanmar -- and to hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.

The recruitment of child soldiers is illegal under Burmese law, and officials deny that the army condones the practice in its ranks. But rights groups said children as young as nine face the threat of forced recruitment by security forces and civilians, even in public places such as markets and bus stations.

They also accused the Burmese armed forces of committing grave acts of sexual violence, including rape, against women and girls from ethnic minorities, and of planting landmines close to schools.

According to the report, the army is the biggest recruiter of child soldiers, but several minority ethnic armed groups in some of the country's conflict zones are also responsible for these same types of violations, only on a smaller scale.

Rights groups are urging the Security Council to set a deadline for Burma to comply with ending these abuses and releasing the children in their ranks, as well as punishing the perpetrators. Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch:

"If tangible progress is not achieved by this deadline, we believe the Security Council should exercise its right and its power to impose targeted sanctions - which could include travel bans, asset freezes or arms embargos," said Becker.

The report also recommends that the Burmese authorities develop reintegration programs for children released from the Burmese military or other armed groups.