Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, concludes her first visit to Myanmar

Yangon, 16 July 2015 – The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, concluded a five-day visit to Myanmar today.  Her first visit to the country, at the invitation of the Government, aimed to assess the impact of the conflict on children in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 1612, focusing in particular on the implementation of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) signed in 2012 by the Government and the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by the armed forces of Myanmar (Tatmadaw).  The SRSG visited Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Mandalay and Myitkyina (Kachin state).

In her high-level meetings with key ministries, SRSG Zerrougui commended the important progress made by the Government in the implementation of the JAP.  She welcomed the new directives and mechanisms put in place to address underage recruitment, and noted that since 2012, 646 former child soldiers have been released by the Tatmadaw. The SRSG was encouraged by the openness of Government interlocutors with whom she had frank and constructive discussions.

“Despite this progress,” the SRSG emphasized, “it is critical to close the remaining gaps to protect children and ensure that no one can recruit them.”  In this regard, the SRSG pointed to the need to apply robust age assessment within the centralized military recruitment process, and include the prevention of violations against children in the standard military curriculum.  “A professional army does not need children within its ranks.”

The SRSG underlined the importance of criminalizing the recruitment and use of children, whether it be committed by civilian brokers or military personnel.  She expressed concern about the detention of children who have allegedly ‘deserted’ the army.  “These children should never have been recruited in the first place,” she said.  “Detain the recruiters, not the children.”

In this context, the SRSG welcomed the intention of the Government to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in the near future, and to include a chapter on children and armed conflict in the new Child Law.

Reflecting on her meeting with former child soldiers, some of whom are living with long-term physical and emotional scars of conflict, Ms. Zerrougui stressed the need to address the root causes that foster child recruitment, including through increasing access to education and employment opportunities.

The SRSG also took the opportunity to enter into dialogue with several of the seven ethnic armed groups also listed for recruitment and use of children*.  During her meetings with representatives of ethnic armed groups, the SRSG expressed the hope that the seven listed groups will enter into action plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under 18.  She called for access by the United Nations to the conflict-affected areas to negotiate action plans directly, to monitor the situation, and to provide humanitarian services.

The SRSG highlighted the importance of including child protection in the ongoing peace process between the Government and ethnic armed groups.  “Addressing common concerns relating to the protection of children can be an entry point for building trust and de-escalating tensions between the parties.  In my experience, this has worked well in other peace processes,” she said.

“I am encouraged by the meaningful dialogue I have had during my visit.  Now I would like to see the Government translate its expressed commitment into proactive measures to close the gaps and fully implement all provisions of the JAP,” said Ms. Zerrougui.  “I call upon all parties to the conflict in Myanmar to immediately stop the recruitment and use of children under 18.  By doing so, they will demonstrate their true commitment to peace.”