In an interview with the Myanmar Times, the regional director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Mr. Daniel Toole, stated his concern that “the numbers [of underage soldiers] are not large but it’s still important. No child should be recruited.”
According to UNICEF, both government and non-government armed groups are still engaged in recruiting child soldiers throughout the country, not only in conflict zones.
However, the government has stated that it will begin putting in measures to stop active recruitment, including through cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Mr. Toole reported that “The government is putting in place legislation [and] controls to make sure it doesn’t [happen]. Some other groups are less clear and everyone has to stop. I visited a location with a recruitment centre [and saw] how the military is trying to make sure that only boys older than 19 go into the army.
“We need to make sure that all the children have the same protection against guns, trafficking and child labour. Those are challenges here.”
Touching on Myanmar’s political transition, Mr Toole said UNICEF would try to respond as quickly as possible to support policy changes and other developments in what he described as “an extraordinary time” for the country.
“We have to make sure that we are adapting as the situation changes,” he said. “We have more organisations coming in, more partners coming in. For UNICEF, it means more opportunities to move about the country. For example, we had a mission just last week to some border areas [that were] previously closed. We were able to go there, we will have [an] assessment of water and sanitation and education in Karen State very soon because those [areas] are now open. And that’s a big change, we didn’t have that a year ago.”
According to a recent report submitted to the UN Security Council by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the ILO received 201 complaints of child soldier recruitment in 2010.
Some of the children were reportedly recruited while working unaccompanied from the street, railway stations and other public places. However, the majority of children are still recruited directly from their homes and villages.
Although child soldiers are not exclusively mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals, becoming a soldier means that children and less likely to gain an education, meaning that the MDG goal two, achieving universal primary education will not be met.