Meet Thet. Thet lived with his mother in a small rural village about one day’s travel from Naynyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. Thet’s mother was renowned in her village for her skills as a tailor, which she passed on to her only son.
One day, Thet’s mother tasked her son to take some newly tailored shirts to the main market in Naynyidaw. While Thet had made this trip a number of times with his mother, this time he would travel alone.
Soon after arriving in the capital, Thet was approached by a local trader in the market. Despite Thet’s lack of education, the man offered him a job as a driver for a rich family. The driver job would pay much more than the clothes and allow Thet to support his mother and start a life of his own.
Thet quickly learned that the job he was promised was a lie as he was forced into the hands of the armed forces. Not all children who are in the armed forces see front line combat but Thet was tall and much stronger than the younger children. Soon after joining he was sent to the front. Many of the smaller children were used on the front line to sweep for landmines, or carry goods, however Thet was made to cook for the commanders. He would cook food that reminded him of life back at home with his mother. Life at the front was harsh and Thet suffered both physically and mentally. He was routinely abused by commanders and suffered burns from his work as a cook. The only thing keeping Thet alive was his dreams of home when he went to sleep at night.
Early one morning Thet woke up to Govenrment forces attacking his camp. Thet scrambled out of his shelter and hid in the latrine close by. He stayed there for two days until it was safe. Thet then made his way to Naypyidaw. Fearing for his safety Thet stayed in the big city and found a job at a small tailoring shop. Even though Thet had escaped over a year ago, his dreams of home have been replaced by nightmares and the sounds of gunfire.
Who is a Child Soldier?
The Paris Principles on Children and Armed Conflict
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier using the 2007 Paris Principal and Guidelines on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. Using the definition within the Paris Principles of a child used and associated with armed groups, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier as:
“Any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking part or has taken a direct part in direct hostilities”
and Recommended Readings
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict Myanmar Country Page: Webpage Link
2014 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link
2013 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict Conclusions on children and armed conflict in Myanmar (2013): Report Link
Statement by the Chairman addressed to the non-State armed groups in Myanmar: Report Link
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: No More Denial: Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Myanmar (Burma): Report Link
Child Soldiers International: Under the radar: Ongoing recruitment and use of children by the Myanmar army: Report Link
Not Every Child Soldier Carries a Gun
Armed groups will use children as cooks for a number of reasons. Just as children are used as porters, using children as cooks frees adults within armed groups and forces to undertake other roles. In addition, cooking can often circumvent the disadvantages of using children where their small size or lack of experience may be a detriment to the armed group.
When a child is exploited by performing domestic tasks, such as cooking, it is often not their only task within the armed group or force. In many instances children will be forced to fight on the front lines and then upon returning to camp have to labour performing domestic tasks freeing their adult counterparts to engage in other activities.
In spite of cooking being regarded as a menial and “harmless task” numerous children sustain many physical injuries, which can be permanently debilitating.