Of the Same Life: Releasing Myanmar's Child Soldiers

Collection with 23 media items created by Spike Johnson

Myanmar 21 Oct 2014 00:00

Thein Myint's bamboo hut is filled with villagers looking for help.Their boys are being kidnapped by the Myanmar Army for active service. In the 20 ft square shack in the shanty town of Dine Su, on edge of the Yangon River, people fill all available space. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters overlap on the hard floor. The men spit betel juice though the cracks in the worn boards, and the women fan each other to keep cool. Younger children peek in from outside, their fingers clawing through the steel mesh in the glassless window.

“Times have changed. There is international pressure now regarding forced labor, child labor,” says Thien Myint, “they can't keep doing it.”

Since the violent crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1988, the Myanmar Army's need for rapid expansion, has encouraged the forced recruitment of boys as young as 11 to fulfill impossible quotas. Kidnap, beatings, and drugging are tactics that deliver boys to the front lines of Myanmar's far flung civil wars, to sweep for mines, attack and execute villagers, or man live offensives. In December the Myanmar Army released 80 child soldiers from active service, bringing the total freed children to 845 since 2007. There has been steady pressure on the Myanmar Army and non-state armies to fall in line with ASEAN human rights recommendations, and International Labour Organization conventions. The armies are making small acts of compromise in appeasement, and during the final few months of 2014 have been increasing their releases. However although Myanmar is a member of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the use and recruitment of child soldiers is still commonplace. Slowly though soldiers that were forcibly recruited as children are returning to their villages, to their families who have long thought them dead.

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Myanmar Burma Yangon Child Soliders Dine Su Asean Ilo Civil War Conflict Refugees Reunification Society Children's R... Human Rights

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 02
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura, aged 15, after finishing his four month training in Mon State, in Eastern Myanmar.

"There were rocks in the soup, and sand in the rice,"€ he said, "€œand I missed home terribly."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 03
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army and threatened with false charges. They are offered an ultimatum:€“ a long prison term, or recruitment.

"This is human trafficking, it's the same as prostitution," says Win Myint, 52, as he waits for the return of his young son from the military.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 04
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura is reunited with his four year old son, after spending a year and a half in military prison. He’d been fighting front line battles with the Myanmar Army in the jungles of Karen State for over two years, and eventually defected when he was seventeen, hiding at the Thai border for four years. Now twenty three, he is a free man.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 05
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win shows both his Army ID card, proving that he's been discharged legally. Usually the Army doesn't begin awarding pensions until 60 years old, Tun Tun Win is drawing his now at the age of 30, $27 per month. He served a 14 year stretch with the Myanmar army, beginning when he was 14 years old.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 06
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
24 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura on his fifth day at his new welding job. He's been out of military prison just over one week, after defecting to the enemy, and over the Thai border when he was 17.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 07
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Win Myint stores his son'€™s few possessions, ready for his return from the Myanmar Army. Like many other boys Aung Than Zaw was forcibly recruited from their village at the age of fifteen, and sent to the Shan State front line. His father has been working with the International Labour Organization to secure his release for two years.

"Sometimes I think he'€™ll never come home, that the army will continue to delay, or that they'€™ll sell him to someone else on the way,"€ he says.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 08
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Win was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. He was drugged and awoke in an army base.

"€œI was told I'€™d been sold to the Myanmar Army for $80,"€ he said.

Now twenty one, he'€™s free, and working in a fish yard on the River Yangon. He earns $2 per day, and commutes an hour up the river to his village, Dine Su.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 09
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Alongside the Myanmar Army's partial release of it's child soldiers, and regardless of it's continued forced recruitment of minors, billboards can be seen around Yangon displaying various messages of military innocence.

"After I turn 18 and become a man, I'll get into the military, but now I am still young. The military does not accept people under 18."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 10
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
11 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Min was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. His food was drugged and he awoke in an abandoned building inside Shwedagon Pagoda Army base. He had no bed, but slept on the concrete, using his longyi as a pillow.

'€œThere were six of us there. Mostly they were 15, 17 at the most. None of them knew they were in the army,"€ said Arkan Min. 'I wasn't there in the first place because I was interested. I was forced."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 11
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Dine Su balances between an army base, a shipping port, and industrial factories, teetering on the slippery banks of the Yangon River. A shanty town of bamboo, mud, and dusty football pitches. It is typical of countless other communities. Most people come here from out of town, victims of government land grabs for condos or luxury golf courses in the Delta region. As an illegal settlement, Dine Su is susceptible to exploitation by authorities.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 12
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Nov 2014

The ferry port of Botahtaung Pagoda. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army on false charges, and offered an ultimatum – a long prison term, or recruitment.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 13
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 14
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station as night falls. The Myanmar Army make regular patrols of transport hubs, approaching young boys aged between 11 and 15 who are trying to get home late at night. Officers apply escalating pressure to each in the hope of forcing recruitment.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 15
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

As Buddhist lent ends and the slim window of winter approaches, couples are keen to marry before the heat returns. Today in Dine Su, a village too small to feature on the map, residents are busy enjoying four separate weddings.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 16
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Boys spend their days climbing trees and playing in the street in Dine Su, one of Yangon's countless shanty towns. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 17
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win remembers playing football at the edge of his village. A patch of dusty ground, squeezed between an army base and a shipping port was used as a pitch, worn flat by dozens of bare feet. Leafy trees provided some shade for spectators, and a fringe of tall bamboo offered a little privacy. It was here that he was lured into the Army by a civilian broker at 14 years old. “If the military released all of the child soldiers, there’d be no one left,” he said.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 18
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Win Myint and his wife, appealed to the International Labour Organization for the release of their son from underage enrollment into the Myanmar Army. Now they're waiting for his official release under the 2012 Joint Action Plan.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 20
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 21
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Snake Pagoda south of Yangon. Boys in rural areas, often praying or hanging around public areas make easy targets for military recruiters. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 22
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.

"€œWhen we want a child soldier released, we have to work together with the village authorities and the International Labour Organization,"€ she says.€œ"We cannot do it alone."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 23
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

One of the two jetties that Arkar Min and his group work at together. When there is no work at one jetty, they make their way to the other. Usually they hope to earn around 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2 per day.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 24
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works from her small house in DIne Su. She lives with her husband, but they often give shelter to those in need, children with nowhere to go, or returning soldiers, feeding everyone that comes through her door.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 25
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.