The SPDC Army has more child soldiers than any other army in the world, their number estimated by Human Rights Watch in 2002 to be at least 70,000. Ranging in age from 11 to 17, most of them are forcibly conscripted and treated brutally in training and in the field. Cut off from all contact with their families, they are forced to loot food from the villages and round up villagers for forced labour. Most other armed groups in Burma, including the DKBA and KNLA, have child soldiers in far smaller numbers. Many of these are volunteers, seeking revenge against SPDC forces for abuses against their families or simply looking for a chance to be sent to school or a way to obtain regular meals. Though these armies could choose to send these children to schools, they are often deployed in active military units instead.
Saw E—- is 13 years old, but the local officer of the KNU’s Gher Tha (known as the ‘local force’, part-time Karen National Defence Organisation village defence militia) in his village in southwestern Papun district ordered him to join. This photo was taken in January 2006. [Photo: KHRG]