Burma has released 67 child soldiers in first discharge of the year – UNICEF
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Burma has released 67 child soldiers in first discharge of the year – UNICEF

AS part of an ongoing process to end the forced recruitment of underage children into its army, the Burmese military has released 67 child soldiers.

According to AFP, as published by Burmese news site Mizzima, the former junta in Burma had steadily recruited underage fighters for decades until 2012, when the state’s army signed a pact – the Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups – with the United Nations. This took place a year after the former junta gave up power after a 50-year reign.

Since then, almost 850 children and young people have been released from the ranks. However, there are no figured confirming how many of these underage recruitments remain among about 500,000 troops in Burma.

But efforts by the country’s young government under Aung San Suu Kyi has seen recruitment slow down as it works to help the former soldiers reintegrate into society as part of the peace process.

“We welcome this discharge by the Tatmadaw along with other measures it has taken to prevent new recruitments and the use of children. It is much more difficult to recruit a child today than it was 4 years ago, recruitment procedures have been centralized, physical checks are strengthened, and assigned military focal points ensure the ranks are aware of the standards” said Bertrand Bainvel, the UNICEF Representative, and co-chair of the UN CTFMR, in a statement.

The UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) is now calling on the Burmese government to adopt the new Child Rights Bill, which includes a chapter on children and armed conflict.

SEE ALSO: Nearly half a million refugees have fled Burma – UN

The release of the children comes as US officials confirm that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has plans to remove Burma and Iraq from a US list of worst offenders in the use of child soldiers.

According to Reuters, Tillerson overruled and ignored his own staff’s assessments and the recommendations of senior diplomats in both Asia and the Middle East on the matter, and rejected an internal State Department proposal to add Afghanistan to the list.

His plans have been criticised, with Human Rights Watch saying that removing Burma from the list would be a “completely premature and disastrous action that will effectively betray more children to continued servitude and rights abuses”.

“What’s particularly astonishing is this move ignores that the U.N. in Burma says that it is still receiving new cases of children being recruited” by the Myanmar military, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Additional reporting by Reuters