Myanmar frees dozens more child soldiers from army, U.N. says

AFP-JIJI

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Myanmar’s army Thursday released 109 children and young people from its armed forces, the United Nations said, commending the country’s “accelerated” efforts to end the use of child soldiers.

The move was the largest single release of child recruits since the formerly junta-ruled nation committed to ending the recruitment and use of children in its “Tatmadaw” army in a June 2012 pact with the U.N.

A total of 472 children and young people have been released since then as the military has slowed — but not yet completely halted — its use of children.

“We are witnessing an increasing number of children coming out of the Tatmadaw, indicating the accelerated efforts of the government of Myanmar and the Tatmadaw to put an end to the harmful practice,” Renata Lok-Dessallien, U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar, said in a statement.

There are no verifiable figures on how many children are currently serving in Myanmar’s huge military, which has faced a slew of accusations over rights abuses, including the forced recruitment of children to work as porters or even human mine detectors.

This latest release comes soon after the army freed 91 children and young people from the armed forces in August. All of those released were under the age of 18 when the June 2012 pact was signed.

Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF representative in Myanmar, commended progress including a new directive to prevent child enrolment at battalion level and nationwide billboards raising awareness that the recruitment of children is illegal.

A quasi-civilian regime led by former Gen. Thein Sein has won praise and steered Myanmar out of decades of isolation.

But ending rights violations is a key demand of the international community, which has embraced reforms in the once pariah state since the end of outright junta rule in 2011.