In 2015, Myanmar signed OPAC – the international child soldier treaty – a significant step in ending the recruitment of use of children in conflict. And while great progress has been made, reports of recruitment persist in parts of the country. We are working with government and local organisations for the ratification of OPAC and to improve measures preventing future recruitment.

Background

Myanmar has been affected by some of the longest-running internal armed conflicts in the world. Following independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, the failure to agree to a comprehensive political settlement on power sharing led to conflicts between a number of ethnic minority groups.

After the state armed forces seized power in 1962, the country laboured under a repressive military dictatorship for nearly half a century. Internal armed conflict continued; children were and still are commonly recruited and used by the conflicting parties. A transition to civilian government began in 2011.

Myanmar’s internal armed conflicts have been marked by severe human rights violations, attacks against civilians, and mass displacement, with children widely used by both state armed forces and armed groups. Despite a minimum enlistment age of 18, large numbers of boys were recruited, often forcibly, into the national army, with some sent to the front line far from home and forced to fight in gruelling and dangerous conditions.

Myanmar signed an Action Plan with the UN in 2012 to end the use of child soldiers by the Tatmadaw. Since then, the Tatmadaw has released 849 children and young people and taken significant steps to reduce child recruitment, but has yet to sustainably root it out and occasional cases of recruitment by the armed forces are still being reported.

The Tatmadaw was first listed in the UN Secretary-General’s report on children in armed conflict as one of the parties guilty of recruiting children in 2003, and remains on the list alongside seven ethnic armed groups from the country.

While some ethnic armed groups have policies not to recruit children, they have also failed to implement them consistently, and the UNSG has urged the government to allow the UN to engage with listed armed groups to enable them to sign Action Plans of their own.

The issue

In 2015, the country took the welcome step of signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC), a significant step towards eradicating the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. However it is yet to ratify the treaty to make it fully legally binding.

Ratifying OPAC would demonstrate Myanmar’s political will to continue to address the issue, in line with the roughly 85% of states that have already done so, including every other member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The key provisions of the treaty are largely in line with Myanmar’s existing national laws and policies on armed forces recruitment, and would build on progress achieved to date under the UN Action Plan.

Furthermore, ratifying OPAC would provide an avenue to strengthen dialogue with armed groups on child protection in areas they control, and provide a framework for the government and civil society organisations to highlight national efforts to end child soldier use to the international community.

Our impact

Child Soldiers International has documented the widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers in Myanmar for over a decade. Our research and advocacy contributed to the release of hundreds of children from the national army since 2012. We have built pressure to ensure that those who recruited children are held responsible and action has so far been taken against hundreds of national army officials. The practice of detaining children who fled from the national army has now reduced and there is widespread awareness that the recruitment and use of children is a crime which will be punished.

In February 2018, we returned to the country to hold several workshops with parliamentarians and civil society organisations on the importance of ratifying OPAC. Facilitated in partnership with local NGO Equality Myanmar, the workshops looked at  the various ways that children can become associated with armed forces and armed groups, the history of the use of child soldiers in Myanmar, progress in dealing with the issue to date and steps which can be taken to ensure OPAC’s ratification.

What we'll do next

We will continue to push for ratification of OPAC, and once this is achieved, build the capacity of national authorities and child protection actors to ensure it is effectively implemented.

Photo © Ryan Roco/Child Soldiers International