Myanmar recruits children, group says

BANGKOK, Thailand — Myanmar’s military government, already under criticism for abuses, is recruiting children as young as 10 into its armed forces, a U.S. rights group charged in a report being released today.

Government recruiters target children because of “continued army expansion, high desertion rates and a lack of willing volunteers,” the 135-page report by New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

“Military recruiters and civilian brokers receive cash payments and other incentives for each new recruit, even if the recruit clearly violates minimum age or health standards,” it said.

Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmar’s Information Ministry, said the charges were “another example of biased reporting by this organization, which based its report on the baseless accusations and exaggerated lies of insurgent groups on the border.”

Allegations against both the government and the ethnic groups of Myanmar, also known as Burma, for using child soldiers are long-standing and have been acknowledged by both sides in recent years.

In the report, “Sold to Be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma,” Human Rights Watch said recruiters routinely falsify enlistment records to list children as 18, the minimum legal age for service. It cited the case of a boy who said he was forcibly recruited at age 11, though he was only 4 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed less than 70 pounds.

According to the report, child soldiers are typically given 18 weeks of military training and some are then sent to combat zones. Children “are sometimes forced to participate in human rights abuses, such as burning villages and using civilians for forced labor,” said Human Rights Watch. “Those who attempt to escape or desert are beaten, forcibly re-recruited, or imprisoned.”

Myanmar’s armed forces have had regulations in place since 1973 forbidding recruitment of minors, Htut wrote in an e-mail.

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