London, 9 January 2014 - Children as young as 14 have been recruited and used by theBarisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN) and other armed groups operating in southern Thailand, Child Soldiers International and the Cross Cultural Foundation said in a report released today.

The 17-page report “Southern Thailand: Ongoing recruitment and use of children by armed groups” details patterns of children being recruited into the BRN for diverse roles which include: working as lookouts to gather intelligence on state security forces; engaging in the use of firearms or in active combat during insurgent operations; and performing other support roles as informers. The number of children recruited and used by armed groups in Southern Thailand is not known. Both girls and boys are known to be recruited.

Children have been victims of other grave violations, including attacks on schools, which have resulted in the killings of teachers and disrupted education. Children suspected of association with armed groups are sometimes administratively detained under the special security laws applicable in southern Thailand or are requested to join military-run re-education programs. Three special laws are imposed in different parts of southern Thailand—the Internal Security Act (ISA), Martial Law and the Emergency Decree. Under these laws, individuals, including children, have been detained for up to 37 days without charge. There have been persistent reports of torture during detention under these laws.

“Children have suffered untold miseries in southern Thailand. They have witnessed their relatives being killed and schools attacked and occupied by security forces,” said Charu Lata Hogg, Asia Program Manager, Child Soldiers International. “Armed groups like the BRN have to immediately stop preying on vulnerable children by enlisting them in their forces and exposing them to grave risks.”

Recruitment into the ranks of the BRN is triggered by a sense of historical grievances and injustice and by a perceived religious obligation to fight against those seen as representing or supporting the Thai state. Children join the armed group for different reasons: some grew up with family members who were members of armed groups; or had family members or close friends killed or arrested by the Thai security forces; or lived in an area known to be a stronghold of an armed group. While there is no evidence of children being coerced to join an armed group, social pressure and religious indoctrination places a notable onus on children and youth to join. Similarly, while parental consent was not always sought, there is no evidence to show that parents have opposed their children’s decision to join the armed group.

Historically, some private Islamic schools and traditional Islamic schools – both informally calledponoh - appear to have been the main recruitment ground for armed groups. However, research conducted by Child Soldiers International and the Cross Cultural Foundation shows that in addition to schools, young recruits are also being approached through a network of friends and acquaintances in their communities outside the schools. Three male members of the armed group, two of whom were 16 and 17 at the time of the interview, were contacted by their friends in the same village who were already part of the armed group.

Recruits undergo a rigorous indoctrination process and are assigned to the political or military wing depending on their preference and aptitude. Those assigned to the military wing are required to take additional military training courses focusing on physical stamina, weapons training with a range of small arms such as M-16 and AK-series assault rifles and M-79 grenade launchers, and guerrilla tactics. Trainees displaying greater potential may be selected for military training for so-called 'commando' units, which involves specialised courses in jungle warfare, bomb-making and close-quarter assault.

“The government should mark the National Day for Children by adopting a strategy to prevent the future recruitment and use of children in any violence related act in the south,” said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director, Cross Cultural Foundation. “Unless coordinated measures are in place children will remain defenceless against abuse and violence.”

Since the current separatist campaign first erupted back in January 2004, armed groups have targeted government forces and officials, ethnic Thai Buddhist civilians and local Muslims suspected of collaborating with government authorities. Grounded in a century of ethnic, cultural and religious tensions between the region's Malay-Muslim majority and the Thai state, the violence has protracted for over a decade with no sign to end any time soon. Well over 6,100 people have been killed to date and a further 11,000 injured. The vast majority of these casualties have been civilians, including children.

Armed groups and forces have obligations under international law to stop, prohibit and prevent the recruitment of children or their use in hostilities. Thailand is also a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) which prohibits government forces and non-state armed groups from recruiting and using children in hostilities.

The report includes urgent recommendations to the armed groups and the Thai Government which include:

Recommendations to the armed groups:

  • Immediately stop the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 years and release all under-18s within their ranks without fear of reprisal for the children or their families;
  • Publicly agree to abide by international law and standards to prohibit and prevent the recruitment and use of children in hostilities;
  • Issue and enforce orders to all militants to prohibit child recruitment and use, and widely disseminate the orders to members of the armed groups and to the communities in areas where armed groups operate;
  • Allow access by the UN and independent humanitarian organisations for the purpose of monitoring, identifying, releasing and reintegrating all children from their ranks.

Recommendations to the Thai Government:

  • Establish a system for monitoring and reporting on the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and on the impact of the conflict in southern Thailand on children, particularly on their physical and mental health and education; 
  • Develop multi-faceted, multi-agency strategies to alleviate the impact of the conflict on children and prevent child recruitment and use by armed groups;
  • Expressly criminalise the recruitment and use in hostilities of any persons under the age of 18 years in armed forces and armed groups;
  • Ensure that both civilian and military government officials in southern Thailand are trained in children’s rights, including the provisions of OPAC and are aware of their roles to prevent and address underage recruitment.

Notes for Editors

Child Soldiers International and the Cross Cultural Foundation conducted research in nine districts in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla between September 2013 and April 2014. Detailed interviews were conducted with 26 former and current members of armed groups, at least 13 of whom were recruited below the age of 18. Among these were five children, who were recruited between 2011 and 2012 in Narathiwat province and continued to be with the BRN in late 2013.

For more information and to arrange an interview with a spokesperson from Child Soldiers International, please contact Charu Lata Hogg, Mob: +44 (0) 7906261291; To arrange an interview with the Cross Cultural Foundation, please contact Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director, Cross Cultural Foundation, Mob: + 66 86 709 3000

For more information:

Child Soldiers International and Justice for Peace Foundation, Priority to Protect: Preventing children’s association with village defence militias in southern Thailand, February 2011.

Child Soldiers International, Thailand: OPAC Shadow report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, September 2011.

Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Thailand (CRC/C/OPAC/THA/CO/1), 21 February 2012.

For additional information on UN reports on underage recruitment and use in Southern Thailand, see the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, A/68/878–S/2014/339, 15 May 2014, paragraphs 200-204.