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Courage and commitment: protecting children from armed groups

A difficult and sensitive area of our protection work in Myanmar is preventing the recruitment of children into armed groups and gaining the release of children under 18 (or those who were recruited while under 18). 

A common refrain from child-protection and youth groups in the field is that curbing recruitment into armed groups is complicated — young people are typically duped into migrating away from their home community under the pretext of taking up a well-paid job. We’ve failed to come across any incidence of children willingly joining the military. 

Staying a step ahead in the chase

To address this, child-protection groups are working to ensure that all planned migrations are well documented and legitimate before children and adults leave.  Save the Children works with UNICEF, ILO and other organisations to help children who’ve been released to settle back into their communities.

Save the Children in Myanmar is an active member of the Country Task Force for Monitoring and Reporting, which has made some progress with the government to address the recruitment of children through better monitoring and renewed commitments to punish perpetrators.

Recruitment happens in many regions of the country, but in 2010 protection groups reported nine cases in one greater Yangon (Rangoon) township — an impoverished area with extensive protection issues. Children from the area — all boys aged 13-18 — were recruited to military centres throughout the country. The group reported each incident to the township child rights committee and sought their assistance in gaining the children’s release.  

Some lessons were learned in the process:

  • It’s imperative that protection groups and Save the Children act quickly on reports of underage recruitment — within five days, many young people will be transferred to other recruitment centres making it much more difficult to trace them.
  • It’s vital to have documentation — ideally birth registration — to prove children are under 18.
  • Many protection groups receive small operational funds from Save the Children and they tell us this is vital for them to respond quickly without having to struggle to cover things like transport fees.
  • The groups have found it helpful to make appointments with key military personnel at recruitment centres ahead of time to avoid delays in the process.

Protection groups are beginning to place more emphasis on prevention, raising awareness about the potential risks of ‘recruiters’, and the importance of being vigilant. Save the Children field staff and community groups are also working to bolster communities’ zero tolerance policy on exploitation, linking with education and vocational training initiatives.

As difficult and sensitive as it may be, Save the Children-supported community groups have demonstrated real commitment and courage in addressing children and armed conflict, and their efforts are having a positive impact on the lives of potentially thousands of children.

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