Myanmar’s military discharged 55 child soldiers from its ranks on Friday, the United Nations said while warning that new underage recruits continue to enter the armed forces. There are no verifiable figures on how many children still serve in Myanmar’s huge military, which ruled over the country for 50 years before allowing November polls that swept democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi to power.
The army is accused of a long history of rights abuses, including the forced recruitment of children to work as porters and even human mine detectors. It has released a total of 800 former child soldiers since it signed a pact with the United Nations in 2012.
“We welcome this discharge… while stressing the need for the government to continue making every effort to end the recruitment and use of children in its armed forces,” said Renata Dessallien, the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar.
The former child soldiers discharged on Friday, who were all under the age of 18 when recruited, come from around the country and were picked up by their families in Yangon, said Mariana Palavra from UNICEF Myanmar.
“We will have someone follow up with them to decide what they want to do, if they want to go back to school or if they want to get some other type of training,” she told AFP. At least seven of the ethnic rebel militias who have been fighting the military in the country’s borderlands for decades also use underage fighters, according to the UN.
“Until now we don’t have an action plan with ethnic groups, but we are working with a few of them,” said UNICEF’s Palavra. Suu Kyi has devoted her first few months in power to laying the groundwork for peace talks between the patchwork of ethnic minority insurgents and the military.
Last month she held a landmark summit that brought many key rebel leaders to the table for initial talks. But the long-running conflicts are complex and meeting the demands of each group, including the still-powerful military, is not expected to be easy.