Myanmar: Armed Clashes Escalate while Children Suffer in the Rakhine

The escalation of armed clashes severely impacted the lives of children and their communities, resulting in a significant increase in grave violations, particularly in 2019. This was highlighted by the sixth report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Myanmar released today.

A total of 994 grave violations against children were verified across the country between September 2018 and June 2020, mostly in Rakhine State in 2019. Access restrictions for the United Nations remained a major challenge to monitor and verify grave violations.

“Parties to conflict in Myanmar must abide by their obligations under international law,” stated Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. “Measures to end and prevent grave violations against children need to be put in place and strengthened when they exist. They also need to be implemented, so I call upon all parties to make every possible effort in this regard,” she stated.

With the killing and maiming of 320 children, including infants, there was a threefold increase in this violation between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The causes for these casualties shifted during the period covered by the report as armed clashes intensified; the number of children affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war decreased, while more casualties were caused by artillery shelling, crossfire, and airstrikes.

While recruitment of children by Government forces has significantly decreased in recent years, following progress made in the implementation of the Joint Action Plan of 2012, in the Rakhine, 555 children were verified as being used by the Tatmadaw, including for support functions such as military camp maintenance, digging trenches, and harvesting rice particularly in the Buthidaung Township in the Rakhine State. Of concern during the reporting period, children were detained for their alleged association with armed groups. “I am very concerned about the increasing number of children arrested and detained, including on terrorism charges,” stated the Special Representative. “Children allegedly associated with armed groups should be treated primarily as victims, and detention should be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time. Ensuring their rehabilitation and reintegration through specialized age- and gender-sensitive programs is crucial,” she emphasized.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as abduction, are believed to be underreported, largely due to fear of stigma, access, and movement restrictions.

While no incidents of denial of humanitarian access for children were verified by the United Nations in the reporting period, access remains of high concern in several regions due to insecurity, travel restrictions and poor road infrastructure.

Government’s increased commitment to protecting children in armed conflict

Despite the concerning figures and trends, the Special Representative commended the Government of Myanmar for taking concrete measures to address these issues, such as the adoption of the Child Rights Law in July 2019 which criminalizes all grave violations against children, and the establishment in February 2020 of a National Complaint Mechanism to eliminate forced labor, which prohibits the recruitment and use of children.

The engagement between the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations to accelerate the implementation of the Joint Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children has resulted in the sanction of 466 military personnel, a decrease in the number of children recruited by the Tatmadaw, as well as the total release of 1,013 children in their ranks since 2012. In November 2020, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army became the first armed group to sign an Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children with the United Nations and dialogue is ongoing with other listed armed groups.

Source: UN Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict