Myanmar takes steps to free child soldiers

An agreement signed by Myanmar’s government will release child soldiers from the Myanmar armed forces and prevent further recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

By Lauren Fisher and Shawna Templeton, World Vision U.S.
Published June 29, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

This week, the government of Myanmar signed a “joint action plan” that will keep children from being forced to serve as soldiers.

Plan stops child soldier recruitment

The plan promises to release underage recruits from the armed forces and prevent further recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

The plan is a significant step, following several years of negotiations between the government and the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting, composed of various United Nations agencies and service organizations, including World Vision.

The agreement also includes an awareness-raising component to stop underage recruitment, granting access to UN agencies and partners for monitoring underage recruits, and coordination with non-state armed groups to stop underage recruitment.

“We welcome today’s signing as a very significant milestone toward the protection of children in Myanmar,” says Chris Herink, national director of World Vision Myanmar. “This plan underscores the government’s commitment to stop underage recruiting, and we will continue to support the government and local communities to keep children safe.”

World Vision in Myanmar

In Myanmar, World Vision works to help prevent underage recruitment through raising awareness in communities, and supports the reintegration of former child soldiers back into their families and communities. To date in 2012, World Vision has assisted in the reintegration of 20 former child soldiers in Myanmar.

World Vision has been supporting Myanmar’s children since 1959, and in 1993, we opened our first in-country office in support of four HIV and AIDS projects. Today, World Vision has 140 projects in 11 states and regions. More than 3 million people are benefiting from our work in 1,202 wards and villages.

Child soldiers a global challenge

An estimated 250,000 children are forced to fight in wars around the world — some as young as 9. Children conscripted into military service are used as front-line combatants, suicide bombers, mine sweepers, sex slaves (especially girls), and spies.

Seven countries (pdf) are known to use children in their national armies — Myanmar, Libya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

In 2009, Congress passed the Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA). The law curtails U.S. military assistance to governments that fail to take steps to demobilize and stop recruiting children into the armed forces or government-supported militias.

However, through a loophole in the law, the current administration continues to provide military assistance to five of the seven governments implicated in child soldier usage — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

“The CSPA law is a powerful tool,” says Jesse Eave, World Vision’s child protection policy advisor. “The administration has done better in addressing this issue with countries that receive U.S. aid. However, the message must be clear: Stop using children or lose U.S. military aid.”

Three ways you can help

Thank God for the agreement signed by Myanmar’s government. Pray that other countries release children from their militaries and halt child recruitment.

Call the White House. Let President Obama know that we will not tolerate our tax dollars going to support armies that use children as weapons of war. Urge him to stop giving military aid to countries that use child soldiers in their national armies.

Make a monthly financial pledge to help provide for the needs of children affected by war. Your gift will help provide counseling and rehabilitation for children impacted by conflict, child protection services, peacebuilding activities, advocacy to prevent child soldier conscription, and more.