On a rainy afternoon in August, I had an opportunity to meet with and learn from a Save the Children supported Child Protection Group (CPG) in a ward of Hlaingthayar Township—a peri-urban area of Yangon which attracts many migrants from across the country who come to work in one of the many factories or take up construction work or other daily wage earning jobs. Hlaingthayar has one of the highest rates of underage recruitment into the military in the country and is rife with working children.
Established in 2009, the CPG is an excellent and poignant example of our community-based approach to promoting child protection. The group frequently meets with Township authorities, including Myanmar Child Law sanctioned Township Child Rights Committees, to strategise on both preventive and response measures in addressing protection issues. Led by a dynamic woman, the CPG has recently been able to resolve 30 child protection cases—15 of which involved the underage recruitment of children into the military.
Three boys who had been recruited—still under the age of 18—joined us on this afternoon to tell us their stories. None had willingly joined. All three had very similarly been duped into meeting a “broker” at a location to discuss the potential of some part-time work opportunities. They were then taken to a couple of locations and eventually found themselves at a military recruitment centre. The chances of gaining the quick release of children from the military are much greater in the first few days as recruits will then be sent to various training camps around the country. From there, they will be sent to other locations sometimes even to the “frontlines” of fighting. One of the children we spoke with had been sent to the frontline in one of Myanmar’s restive ethnic regions and had witnessed and took part in fighting.
It was really due to the tenacity of the CPG in coordination with the children’s parents, Save the Children and ILO that these children were successfully released. The CPG acted quickly in all three cases discussing the issue with parents, local authorities, including school authorities, and referring the cases to the ILO through their complaints mechanism. Together with parents, they travelled to recruitment centres and tried to discuss the children in question with recruitment centre officials and administrators. In one particular case, it was only after several visits with school authorities that the CPG was able to obtain a letter verifying that the boy had been attending school (in the absence of age verification/birth registration documentation, having a letter from a school authority is vital) per the requests of recruitment centre officials.
While the CPG’s tenacity is laudable, they offered suggestions for streamlining the process for release from recruitment centres. CPGs across the country who have intervened in cases of underage recruitment tell similar stories—that they are often asked to produce a litany of documentation and letters, which more often than not can delay the process. On a policy level, Save the Children is a key member of Myanmar’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) and in addition to contributing to the bi-monthly and yearly reports on CAAC in the country, the CTFMR is currently working on a Joint Plan of Action with the Government, which includes more systematic regulations and requirements, including documentation, for both access to recruitment centres and gaining the release of children who have been recruited.
While some underage recruitment of children continues, the efforts and presence of the CPG has had a significant impact on reducing it. As the chair of the CPG told us, “Brokers don’t dare operate within the Ward anymore since they know that we monitor these things. Recruitment can only take place on the fringes of the community, so we are working hard on community awareness raising and ensuring that both children and parents are aware of the risks and ways to keep themselves safe.”