Myanmar’s military has released 75 child soldiers, a UN agency said, its first discharge this year as part of a gradual process to end decades of forced recruitment of underage fighters.
There are no concrete figures on how many children are still among the estimated 500,000 troops that serve in Myanmar’s military, or the ethnic rebel armies that it battles in the country’s border regions.
The state’s army has released 924 children and young people from its ranks since signing a deal with the United Nations in 2012, according to Friday’s statement released by UN child protection agency UNICEF.
The child soldiers released will have to attend reintegration programmes to return them to civilian life, a process that will contribute to “bringing lasting peace in Myanmar as productive citizens”, the statement added.
Experts say that as long as the army and ethnic armed groups continue warring within Myanmar, children remain at risk of recruitment.
They are usually kidnapped or taken by force from public spaces like parks and train stations in their towns, before being threatened with jail time if they refuse to be conscripted.
UNICEF added in addition to the army there are seven other “persistent perpetrators” that recruit child soldiers including the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army South — both ethnic groups that continue to engage in skirmishes with the Myanmar military.