Incidents of violence against children in Myanmar’s Rakhine State continue to rise

Photo from UNICEF Myanmar/2009/Ye Pyait Ko Ko

Violence against children during the armed conflict in Myanmar’s central Rakhine State has been on a sharp rise, despite urgent calls from the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The number of children killed or maimed in the violence rose six-fold in the first three months of this year compared to the previous three months, Save the Children warned on Tuesday, June 23. 

According to multiple monitoring sources, between January-March this year in central Rakhine State alone, 18 children were killed and 71 children were physically injured or maimed, in comparison to 3 killed and 12 injured children between October-December 2019. That represents a dramatic increase in just a three-month period. 

Extortion, killing and maiming are the top three abuses impacting children in central Rakhine. Severe under-reporting of violations against children continues to be a huge challenge across Myanmar, where whole areas including northern Rakhine and southern Chin States remain largely sealed off to independent observers. 

The conflict in these areas between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) and the Arakan Army flared up in late 2018, and intensified earlier this year, in spite of the COVID-19 crisis. The civilian population bears the brunt of this conflict, in part due to repeated armed clashes with heavy weaponry in populated areas. 

While grave violations against children have increased in central Rakhine State, they have decreased in northern Shan State, which saw a significant reduction in child victims of grave violations in the six months between October 2019 and March 2020. While this is a positive trend, children still account for 35 percent of all victims, with killing, maiming and forced recruitment the top violations affecting children in northern Shan. 

The UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report released last week confirms the widespread nature of grave violations against children in Myanmar in 2019, and underlines the urgency of action by all armed actors to address them, Save the Children urged today.  

The report verified a total of 432 grave violations against 420 children in Myanmar, including the killing (41) and maiming (120) of 161 children (108 boys, 51 girls, 2 sex unknown), some as young as 6 months. Further verified reports confirm 12 attacks against schools, and the abduction of 12 children by non-state armed actors. 

The Tatmadaw recruited eight boys in 2019 and used 197 children in functions such as camp maintenance, brick carrying and rice paddy harvesting, an increase compared with the 2018 data. Shockingly, the UN Secretary General took the decision to delist the Tatmadaw for the grave violation of recruitment and use of children. 

Last week, Save the Children called for an independent assessment on how the UN Secretary General had implemented the listing and delisting criteria in this year’s report. The open debate on Children and Armed Conflict between UN Members States scheduled for today in New York will provide a first opportunity to scrutinise the decision making process that underpins de-listing, to ensure an accurate and consistent report moving forward.