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Free to go: Myanmar releases more child soldiers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Myanmar military has discharged 68 children and young people this week. The action follows one month after Myanmar officials released 42 children that had been illegally recruited for soldiering. The United Nations says that the struggling Asian nation, formerly known as Burma, is one of 22 nations that has been engaging in the illegal practice of recruiting underaged people for military purposes.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - To mark the occasion, senior officials from the army, representatives of the government, the United Nations and aid agencies were present at the release ceremony.

According to UNICEF, nations continue to violate international law on the rights of children in armed conflict.

Myanmar signed an agreement after years of negotiation in June 2012, with the U.N. to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The release this week is the largest since the accord was signed.

Human rights groups have criticized Myanmar's government for not moving quickly enough to free them. They have urged the Myanmar Army,  and urged the army or "Tatmadaw" as well as rebel groups to stop recruiting young people.

"Over the past 13 months, the Tatmadaw has discharged 176 children and young people formerly used and recruited as children to jubilant families and friends," Shalini Bahuguna, the Yangon-based deputy representative for UNICEF in Myanmar said in a statement. She welcomed the release and called for the discharge to be accelerated."The time has come for the mass release of all children from the Myanmar armed forces."

The latest report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Myanmar's government had made progress in reducing the recruitment of children to serve - but still needed to stamp out the practice.

Seven ethnic armed groups, including Karen groups such as the Karen National Liberation Army in the east of the country and the Kachin in the north are also guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers.

KNLA signed a commitment late last month to protect children from armed conflict and prevent recruitment of child soldiers, said Geneva Call, a Swiss humanitarian organization that works to protect civilians affected by conflicts.

While no verifiable data exists on the number of children recruited by the Tatmadaw, human rights group Burma Campaign U.K. estimates there are 5,000.

The issue of the use of child soldiers in especially prevalent on the continent of Africa. The Central African Republic is surrounded on all sides by conflict-affected countries. The wars and insecurity in neighboring D.R. Congo, Sudan and Chad have all split over the porous borders into C.A.R.The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has also claimed more than five million lives - making it the planet's deadliest conflict since World War II. But despite the horrific levels of sexual violence and millions of people displaced from their homes and schools, it remains Africa's forgotten war and rarely makes the headlines of the world's media.

Child soldiers are also reportedly prevalent in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

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