Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world and the number is growing, Human Rights Watch said in an extensive new report released on October 16, 2002.
Interviewed by VOA Burmese Service, Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch said, "Recruiters will approach children at public places like market places, at festivals, on the streets at railway stations and they will ask them to join the army. Children who resisted maybe detained until they agree. Many of them are taken away without their parents knowing and many will not see their parents again for many years."
Kyaw Ze Ya, who recently defected from the Burmese army recounted how at age 11 he was snatched from a roadside and pressed into military service.
Human Rights Watch said estimates put the number of conscripts under the age of 18 at more than 70,000. The report said armed opposition groups in Burma also use child soldiers.
Interviewed by VOA Burmese Service, Pado Mahn Sha, an ethnic leader said his group has a policy in place prohibiting the use of children under 18 but had accepted children seeking to join possibly because they have been displaced or seeking revenge for human rights abuses committed against their families or community. The military government on October 17 rejected the report, saying the allegation is an attempt to tarnish the country's image. "We are very disappointed that despite ample evidence to the contrary, the government continues to deny the military's use of children as soldiers," said Jo Becker.