Men at 15: Child Soldiers of Myanmar

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Some are lured in by the promise of earning a meager amount of money, some are captured by the police with petty excuses and then given the Sophie’s choice to either face jail time or serve in the army. There are also reports that some children in Myanmar are even abducted and forced to enroll in the army. The captors, otherwise called recruiters are not only punished but rather rewarded for each so- called recruitment they make. With their identities forged to make them look of legal age, these child soldiers are tortured both physically and mentally into submission. In “Men at 15: Child Soldiers of Myanmar” we hear harrowing first-hand accounts of former child soldiers who have gone through hell and back. Some are now fighting the very army that once recruited them and put them into severe abuse to coerce them into picking up arms and killing on demand.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Kayin State, Myanmar

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:The more experience we gained in the army, the more resentful we became. The army arrests underage children and sends them to military training schools.”

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myint Khine, Recruited Aged 17 by the Karenni Army:The Burmese soldiers forcibly recruited me. They told me that if I did not come with them to the military, I would face 7 years in prison ... and that there would be no reason for me to die.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Banya, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army: I was afraid of the fighting, so afraid. Hundreds of bullets were landed all around me. My friends were getting injured and dying right next to me. I just watched their bodies bleeding badly. But I could not help them.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:They would do anything to stop us from escaping.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Unknown Soldier, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:When I fought alongside the regime ... I found that abductors were paid to snatch children. This is how they were being forcibly conscripted.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:The Myanmar Army destroyed Churches and burnt down villagers' crops. While she was working on a farm, afterwards, they put her in her hut and burnt it with her still inside.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Banya, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army: The Myanmar Army comes to our villages ... but why do they burn our homes and kill our animals and food? And why do they kill people for no reason? And the first thought that came into my head was that I needed to do something”.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myint Khine, Recruited Aged 17 by the Karenni Army:The dictatorship in Myanmar claims that it does not use child soldiers. In fact, because of my own experience, I know that there are a lot. So, I have a responsibility to tell people about it.”

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Banya, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army: I was born east of the than l win River ... which is a black area in the government's military division system. The people in these regions have to continually go into hiding, whenever the government clashes with rebel forces. They just have to pack all their things and move somewhere safe.When we were hiding in the jungle, we didn't have enough clothes or food.We used to have to eat unhygienic food, and we often got sick.After the Myanmar Army had stopped fighting with the rebels, we would return from the hiding place in the jungle.I had to do this at least 10 times in total and the last time it happened, I fled to Thailand. Every time we returned to the village, we found that most of the houses had been burnt down.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Banya, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army: I began thinking … and I asked myself … who keeps coming to burn our villages? And who is coming to fight here? And again, who came and destroyed our villages? And always comes to invade us? I thought long and hard and I began to understand things clearly. I realized who were protecting me, my family and our village. And that was how I came to deciding that I wanted to join the Karenni Army.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Aung Ko Khine, Recruited Aged 14 by the Karenni Army: I was arrested one day at midnight, for being out at night. I was forced into the army and sent to military training school. I had to serve for the Myanmar military for one year against my will. Turn forward! In total, in the training school I went to there were 250 recruits. I will train you! I will train you to obey my every order! Only 100 students were 18 or 19. The rest of them were all 13, 14, 15 or 16.”

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Officer at Karenni Army: The military is not your mother’s house. Don’t behave like you’re in your mother’s house. Rules are very important in the military.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Aung Ko Khine, Recruited Aged 14 by the Karenni Army: Why does the Myanmar Armed Forces use child soldiers?Because, they just don't have enough troops. They used to have 725 in each Batallion, but not anymore.Now the regime gives 100,000 Kyat to anyone who can recruit a soldier. So people try to catch both children and adults to get money from the army. In the Myanmar military, 70 percent of soldiers serve against their will. Maybe 30% actually serve out of choice.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Khin Thant, Former Commander, Myanmar Army:If someone came to join the army at 15 of age, they would let them sign as 18 and then issue a new ID card, so if the international community were to check the card would serve as proof that he was 18.They systematically lied about it.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:One day, I and my friends went to watch soccer match on the way back home. I was stopped by 2 police officers who asked where I was going and where I had come from. They said to me that I wasn't allowed to walk home at this time of night. So I told them that I always go home at that time. They went on accusing me of this and that and then a soldier who was with them, told me to come with him. The police man explained to me that I could follow them and go to jail or I could go with the soldiers, who would help me become a soccer player.

I went with the soldiers to their place and had to stay the night. They had lied to me about the football training. They just said I was going to a training school and that I was to tell them that I was 18 and that I don't have any diseases. They actually sent me to a military training corps. I arrived and asked people if it was a football training ground. They said it wasn't and I wanted to leave straight away. They would do whatever it took to stop us from escaping. Like, if one person in a battalion of 250 soldiers tried to run away.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:After they were caught, the commander would order all of the other soldiers to lie face down on the ground and spread right out. Then the commander would beat all 249 of them with a stick, one by one. After that, all of the commanders and other senior staff would beat the one who ran away. And then the training camp chief would beat him. That was just one method they used. I ran away and went to Bago to stay with my mother and father. I travelled there by bus, without wearing my uniform. But then after living on the run for six or seven months, I decided to hand myself in to the military where they locked me in a cell for 3 straight months before taking to a military court to question me. They asked me if I wanted to continue in the army. And I told them that I didn't want to be a soldier and that I would rather go to jail. And I was sentenced to 1 year imprisonment followed by 6 months hard labor. I was sent to Insein prison so I found myself behind bars.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myint Khine, Recruited Aged 17 by the Karenni Army:I had been locked in solitary confinement for 6 months in a cell no bigger than this chair. They were interrogating me without reason just because my family had a political background. Once I was unable to take any more, they accused me of contacting opposition groups and planting bombs. They put me into a pitch black cell, scraped my shins with wood and electrocuted me. Then they took me out of the cell and scraped my shins here. In the pitch black cell, it was terrible. They started by electrocuting my legs, right here on my legs. Then they tied me up like this and they electrocuted my legs again. And if that still didn't work on me, they would scrape my legs again. They would then force me to kneel on broken glass with my arms in an airplane position. The worst things were, they would beat me with a heavy stick, after all of these methods, then if it still didn't work, they would stop and when I started to fall unconscious, they would shove a huge ball of fish and chili paste in my mouth. The fish paste was really salty and the chili was really hot and I had to hold it in my mouth. Then they would tie my hands behind my back and make me kneel on glass again, I'd have to stay like that for ages, until I fell to the ground. That was the final stage of the torture .I wanted to commit suicide .I just wanted to die. I was that depressed. Eventually I escaped and ran, but they arrested me in Toungo, after that the police called someone to come from the military. A soldier came and explained my situation. He said, if I stayed there I would go to prison for 7 years, however, he said, if I follow him I have no reason to go to prison and there will be no risk of me dying.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Aung Ko Khine, Recruited Aged 14 by the Karenni Army: I didn't want to be a soldier. I fought against the rebels for 8 months in the Myanmar Army. I tried to run away several times but was not able to escape. During that time, I was forced to kill my close friend, my comrade, with my own two hands because he refused to obey an order. He was my best friend. I had no choice. Even though I didn't want to kill him, I could not disobey my commander. Before I did it, he told me to escape from the military. And after I killed my friend, I took my gun and killed the commander who had given the order and then ran away.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Aung Ko Khine, Recruited Aged 14 by the Karenni Army: I arrived in a village under the Karen 5th Brigade and I told them that I would keep my gun and fight alongside them. The more time I got to spend working with civilians after that the more I saw their suffering and the brutality of the Myanmar Army. We clashed with the Myanmar Armed Forces 2 or 3 times per day. Then, I was hit by a landmine. When I was hit by the landmine blast, my eyes could still see. The Myanmar Army continued the fight and one of my comrades was killed. Now, I am blind in one eye and my hand is injured as well. But one eye is okay and the other will be better if operated on. Even if I have one eye I will fight again. I will fight the regime in any way I can. I will fight alongside any group who is fighting the Myanmar Army.

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:There are ‘watchers’ always next to you. Even when you go to the toilet, bathroom, to eat or work, someone is always watching. We were in Hokho labor camp in Shan State. It was an open ground barricaded with about three layers of barbed wire fences. We had to sleep in these long wooden huts as sleeping quarters. There were between 200-300 people in each. There were these huge pots and people used them to wash their hands after eating. Each person would leave about 4 or 5 grains of rice in them after washing. I would sit next to it and wait until everyone had finished eating. After they had left, I would filter out the water and put the leftover rice in my bowl, and eat it. I had a lot of experiences like this. In the hard labor camp, I had to cut endless grass fields. We had to do huge amounts of work within 20 or 30 seconds.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

SOUNDBITE [Burmese], Myat Win, Recruited Aged 15 by the Karenni Army:Only a machine could do it that fast. A watcher always kept a close eye on me, counting the seconds loudly. If I fell short of the time limit, he would push me over and beat my legs and back with a stick. My body was bruised black and blue, with a lot of bleeding under the skin I was not allowed to scream. The more I did, the more he beat me. I couldn't escape from him. Who could help me? I just tried to distract myself by closing my eyes and I missed my home. I have not had any contact with my family since that night I would like to talk with my family about my situation at the moment. So I left Burma and I have been struggling here ever since .In Burma, people do not have an official registration status so the government can recruit child soldiers any time. I had around 20 of them ranked under me but other battalions had a lot so we can’t say for sure. There are a total of 1000 to 1500 battalions in the army. So, if each one has about 30-50 child soldiers, you can do the math yourself how many there are in total. As far as I know the number of child soldiers in the regime's armed forces is increasing. So, why is that? Because for every soldier that leaves, they try to recruit 5 more. I want all the child soldiers in Myanmar Army to be released now .They haven't done anything wrong .Also, I want to see the international community do what it can to stop young children being recruited in the future. That is my wish. I have not given up. I am 19 years old and I could still become a professional soccer player. But this depends on chance and what happens next. The regime is just simply not able to recruit adults in the same way as children. They won't obey their orders .I feel that things in my life did not go the way I expected. The things that happened to me did not help me or anyone else. I lost everything in my life, and I'm exasperated. Despite all of the intelligent people out there, they can't protect children from becoming soldiers. I don't know what they're doing! And so, slowly the number of child soldiers is increasing. That is all.

   

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