Chance for Change - Ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Myanmar’, shows that nearly a decade since international engagement on the issue first began and despite the signing of a Joint Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of children between the Myanmar government and the UN in June 2012, children continue to be present in the ranks of theTatmadaw Kyi (Myanmar army) and the Border Guard Forces (BGFs) which function under the command of Tatmadaw Kyi and armed opposition groups.

Initial steps to implement the Joint Action Plan have led to the release of 42 children from theTatmadaw Kyi, with other releases expected. However, measures to prevent future recruitment of children have not yet been implemented and there are no programs yet to verify the presence of children in the Border Guard Forces (BGFs).

This report shows that a persistent emphasis on increasing troop numbers - accompanied by corruption, weak oversight and impunity - has led to high rates of child recruitment in the Tatmadaw Kyi. Hence, to be effective, measures to prevent underage recruitment should be incorporated into the broader efforts to reform and professionalise Myanmar’s armed forces.

Strengthening the army and BGFs’ recruitment procedures, introducing effective age verification mechanism to remedy practices of age falsification, and, more broadly, addressing the incentives that lead to underage recruitment require profound reforms to Myanmar’s armed forces. Child Soldiers International recommends that international assistance provided to Myanmar mainstream the prevention of recruitment of children and their use in hostilities.

“Political reforms have led to some progress in the security and human rights situation in Myanmar. The Myanmar government and the international community need to ensure that protection of children in armed conflict is provided the highest priority in this reform agenda,” says Richard Clarke, Director, Child Soldiers International.

The report also makes recommendations in respect of two armed groups, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA). Despite instructions by the leadership of both groups to end child recruitment, formal and informal association of children with these groups continues, facilitated by the absence of age verification mechanisms and the lack of access for UN and other humanitarian organisations. Recent ceasefire agreements signed between the government and these armed groups could offer the opportunity for the safe release of children, as well as the prospect of protecting children from future association with these groups.

“The Myanmar Peace Centre set up by the government and supported by the international community, is in a unique position to ensure that protection of children is made an integral part of on-going negotiations with armed groups,” says Clarke. “The opportunity to ensure durable protection of children will be lost if these negotiations do not result in independent access by the UN and other humanitarian agencies, which is a vital first step to verify and release children from these groups and prevent future recruitment”, Clarke added.