Former Child Soldiers in Burma Struggle to Access Education, Opportunities

MDG : Child soldiers attend their discharge ceremony in Yangon,  Myanmar or Burma

A discharge ceremony for child soldiers held in Rangoon. Photo credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

“Career and education is the hardest – because [I am] too old, I cannot get [an] education.” – Maung Maung, former child soldier in the Burmese army.

Recently, 108 child soldiers were released from the Burmese military, bringing the total number of discharged child soldiers there to 472, according to The Guardian. Many had been forcibly recruited into the armed services, officially known as the Tatmadaw--and many had previously escaped or gone awol. On the one hand, their mass discharge is a positive development, in line with UN demands. However, those discharged find their options severely limited, particularly with regard to education, employment, and social assistance programs. If they are fortunate, they may receive a small sum of money and a national identity card that enables one to apply for a job. There is no real support system in place for them upon release–but for escapees, there is the freedom from being prosecuted for deserting the army. Meanwhile, the UN reports that the illegal practice of child recruitment continues in Myanmar.

The possible futures that former child soldiers in the Burmese army face are quite limited–as is the case for “thousands of other children across Burma,” the article’s author, Dani Patteran, points out. The immediate need to financially support oneself and one’s family can lead to early entrance into the labor force, regardless of how secure or well-remunerated the job. As the article states, “Such children … end up sacrificing longer term investments in their future through education or training for the urgent daily subsistence wages of unskilled, casual labor.” Thus, secondary education seems likely to be perceived as an unrealistic option by many former child combatants.

The article, which appears in the UK newspaper The Guardian’s Global Development section  doesn’t go into detail regarding what education should look like, and it mainly links education to employment opportunity and economic productivity. However, for child soldiers, education can serve an important psychosocial function as well. According to UNESCO, for those “children recruited for combat, who have missed out on schooling, education can serve as a vital component in their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.” Additionally, UNESCO recommends that their education “take into account their specific experiences of war and prepare them for peace and reconciliation.” In other words, education can help former child soldiers process their experiences, deal with emotional trauma, and more successfully assimilate into mainstream society. In Burma, this could also mean finding ways to address misunderstandings and discrimination against former child soldiers.

On a hopeful note, the article mentions a group of former child soldiers who now work to spread awareness and understanding about issues surrounding underage recruitment and child combatants. They are making an impact by acting as educators on the topic within their communities.

References:

Child Soldiers. (n.d.), UNESCO. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/strengthening-education-systems/inclusive-education/child-soldiers/

Patteran, D. (2014, October 2). Burma’s child soldiers return home to face a fresh set of challenges. The Guardian. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/oct/02/burma-child-soldiers-army-recruitment

 

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