A Burmese Child soldier near the border of Thailand
The conflict in Burma is one of the world’s longest civil wars, and it heavily relies on child soldiers. According to the Human Rights Watch, Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world, with nearly 70,000 children, or 20% of its force, serving in its national army. Even more serve in the various opposition groups. Boys as young as 11 are approached in public settings, like train stations or markets, and are threatened with jail and violence unless they join the war. These child soldiers are stolen out of society, unable to contact their families, and sent to camps for weapon training, where they are routinely beaten. After being deployed, child soldiers are treated even worse, forced to attack villagers, neighbors, or family and commit atrocious human rights abuses.
This heavy use of child soldiers is a result of the fragmented social structure present in Burma. After many years of conflict, violence, and warfare, Burma’s economic and political system has been left weak, and children are easily able to slip through the cracks. Although the UN has international laws against child soldiers, Burma has not signed and ratified the protocol, and there is no real political structure to check that those being recruited are of age. Moreover, as it is the national army that recruits children out of their societies, families and communities have no power to resist or refuse. Finally, the underdevelopment of Burma pressures children into joining the army, as some see joining the army as a way to escape difficult socioeconomic situation.
However, even if child soldiers are able to escape the harsh war of warfare, life does not go back to normal. If they deserted the army, they must spend their life hiding from the police, and if they are discharged, they must find a way to rejoin society and support themselves. Due to the shift in social structure in Burma as a result of the war, it is very difficult for former child soldiers to assimilate back into civilian life. In many communities, child soldiers are not accepted back into the village or their families due to fears of bad luck and increased economic burdens. Having missed a significant part of their childhood, the former soldiers find it difficult to support themselves or their families, since they are too old to go to school. Often, child soldiers are left it a state of limbo, becoming an outcast of society.
The long-lasting political conflict in Burma impacted the social structure so that children are often seen as expendable, perfect candidates for child soldiers. After being forcibly recruited, young boys are mistreated and taught to mistreat, and this makes it almost impossible for them to rejoin society. Because of the ongoing warfare, children are often overlooked, slipping through the cracks and out of society.