Children as young as 10 years old are being forced into the Myanmar army, according to a report released today by New York-based group, US rights group, Human Rights Watch.
Based on investigations in Myanmar, also known as Burma, Thailand, and China, the 135-page report, "Sold to be Soldiers, The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma," details the role of the government and non-state armed groups in illegally enlisting children in the military.
Because of a shortage and a lack of volunteers in the Burmese military, children are being targeted in public places and then either coerced or threatened to join the army, the report said.
The newest accusations come as Myanmar's ruling junta faces international criticism for its violent crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in the past month.
Thousands were arrested, and the government acknowledges 10 deaths among the protesters, though critics say the real number might be closer to 200.
"The brutality of the military actually extends quite a bit further," Jo Becker, the Children Rights Advocacy Director for the Human Rights Watch told AP Television last week.
"There are recruiters who are literally buying and selling children to fill the ranks of the army. There are thousands of children that are serving in Burma's army, most by force and some as young as ten years old," she said.
Becker said this practice has been going on for decades, but the shocking news was that the children in Burma were being treated like commodities, often being taken to recruitment stations in exchange for money and goods.
Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmar's Information Ministry, said the charges were "another example of biased reporting by this organisation, which based its report on the baseless accusations and exaggerated lies of insurgent groups on the border".
Allegations that both the government and ethnic groups, who have been fighting for autonomy along the country's borders for decades, use child soldiers are long-standing, and have been acknowledged by both sides in recent years as the United Nations has highlighted the issue.
"We believe that the Burma army is really one of the worst violators when it comes to the numbers of children that are being used and the brutality and the element of force and coercion to bring children into the ranks," Becker said.
Human Rights Watch said recruiters routinely falsify enlistment records to list children as 18, the minimum legal age for service.
According to the report, child soldiers are typically given 18 weeks of military training and some are then sent to combat zones.
Becker said her organisation is calling for United Nations involvement in punishing Burma for violating international law in forcibly enlisting children.
"Given the horrible track record that we see with Burma, we believe that sanctions are clearly warranted in this case," said Becker.
Information for this report is provided by APTN.