The Parents of a Child Soldier Helped Me, Now I Help Others

BY IRIN CONTRIBUTOR
Oct 15, 2010

A child soldier in Burma recounts his tale of forced conscription and how he escaped.

 

177 Khin Myint* was 14 when he was drafted as a child soldier. His mother contacted ILO to help him get discharged. She now volunteers as a facilitator and connects other parents of child soldiers with ILO (Photo: Contributor/IRIN)

 

At age 14, Khin Myint* was forced into the life of a child soldier. For months, his mother, Kya Kya Win, had no idea where he was. Eventually, she discovered his whereabouts, and after two years, he escaped but lived in fear of being arrested for desertion. Then in December 2009, a “facilitator” put his mother in touch with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), which helped get him officially discharged last month.

With government approval, ILO began in 2007 to handle and resolve complaints of underage military recruitment, which is illegal but widespread. The agency has helped discharge more than 100 child soldiers – all boys, and has 70 or so cases pending, with more coming in every day thanks to the work of facilitators. Kya Kya Win has now joined the ranks of volunteer facilitators. She and her son, who is now 16, travelled five hours by bus from their home to Yangon to tell their story to IRIN.

Khin Myint: “It was an afternoon in October 2007. I was resting under a tree after a football game with friends, when an army officer approached me and gave me 1,000 kyat [US$1] as pocket money. He ordered me to join the army, so I followed him.”

Kya Kya Win: “That day, I was waiting for my son to come home, but he never came. I cried and cried. I went to every town in search of my son and even came down to Yangon.

“Two months later, a police officer who works with my nephew offered to help. He was going to an army camp on personal business, and he met my son. I was overwhelmed with joy, and I went around telling everyone that my son had been found.

“But there was no way to get him back, so I just stayed home and worked, waiting. I didn’t know how to get my son back. Then one day he came home with the corporal.”

KM: “I was accompanied by this corporal, who followed me all the time.”

KKW: “He was granted seven days leave, but he had only four days, and the other three days he had to spend with the corporal’s family.”

KM: “I left my home with the corporal. The corporal was drinking a lot of alcohol, and when we stopped in his hometown, I took advantage of him being drunk and went back home by bus [in September 2009].

Life in the army is very hard. The officers and older soldiers bullied and beat us. We never received medical treatment.

“I ran away because I didn’t like it. Life in the army is very hard. The officers and older soldiers bullied and beat us. We never received medical treatment. We had to fight battles on the frontlines [against insurgents in Karen State], and when we came back to our unit, we didn’t get to rest or relax, but we had to do chores.

“Some soldiers came looking for me at my Mum’s house, but I escaped and hid in my neighbouring relatives’ houses.”

KKW: “I told them my son never came back home. ‘Last I saw him, he left with the corporal to go back to the regiment.’

“He stayed with me for about three days, and then people from my village told me that they learned from other soldiers that if anyone could find my son, they would be rewarded 5,000 kyats [$5]. I was afraid the village drunkards would report my son to the soldiers in exchange for the 5,000 kyat reward for drinking money, so that night, I took him to a remote place where my daughter was living.

“My sister-in-law knew the parents of the child who had been discharged from the army. The father suggested that I go and see a facilitator in Yangon. This facilitator brought me to the ILO and helped get my son discharged.

“The parents of a child soldier helped me. Now I in return have helped the parents of two other boys. I am determined to help other mothers in the same situation as me. Everyone I meet, I tell them the story of my son, and I tell them all that ILO can help.”

 

* Not their real names

 

This post was first published in IRIN in July 2010.