UN official welcomes child soldier progress, says more must be done

A young boy walks past a billboard promoting a “No Child Soldiers”  campaign in Yangon.
A young boy walks past a billboard promoting a “No Child Soldiers” campaign in Yangon.

A senior United Nations official on Thursday welcomed progress made by the Tatmadaw to stop its recruitment of child soldiers, but said stronger measures were needed to completely stamp out the practice.
Ms Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said it was “very positive” that the 2012 Joint Action Plan to end the Myanmar army’s recruitment and use of children was making an impact.
However, the special representative at a press conference in Yangon said there remained “gaps” in the implementation of the plan.
“For example, even two or three (child soldier) cases are gaps and we need to close the gaps,” Ms Zerrougui said.
The special representative said robust age assessment must be applied within the centralized military recruitment process.
“A professional army does not need children,” she said.
The army must also make measures to prevent violations against children a standard part of its curriculum and take action against military personnel or civilian brokers involved in underage recruitment.
Ms Zerrougui also expressed concern about the detention of children alleged to have “deserted” the army.
“These children should never been recruited in the first place,” she said, “Detain the recruiters, not the children.”
She also noted that since 2012, 646 former child soldiers had been released by the Tatmadaw, expressing her hope that the UN and the government would finalize the Joint Action Plan soon.
During her five-day visit, Ms Zerrougui visited Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay and Myitkyina and held talks with key ministers. She also met representatives from the Kachin Independence Army for the first time.
Ms Zerrougui had also made plans to meet with representatives of other ethnic armed groups including the Karen National Liberation Army and the Karenni National Progressive Party on the final day of her visit.
The special representative said the UN is engaging with the armed groups to gain more information about areas that are not easily accessible.
She also highlighted the importance of including child protection in the ongoing peace process between the government and ethnic armed groups.

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