According to the Global Slavery Index, there are an estimated 575,000 people living in modern slavery in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Some Tatmadaw personnel, civilian brokers, border guard officials, and EAGs continue to recruit or use child soldiers, particularly in conflict-affected ethnic areas. Civilian recruiters in some cases coerce or offer incentives to children or their families through false promises about working conditions, salary, and promotion opportunities. EAGs force men and boys to serve through intimidation, coercion, threats, arbitrary taxation, and violence.
At the age of just 15, Saw Htoo was taken from him family and forcefully recruited into the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw.
The last time I saw my family was at New Year Festival. It was 8pm and we went to the tea shop. We came back home at 11pm. At that time there was no light on in the streets. Four soldiers wearing ordinary clothes arrested us. At first we said we would not enter the army and we wouldn’t go to prison. We had just come back from the tea shop, and we didn’t steal anything or do anything wrong. The soldiers said, “We will give you two days to think. After two days, if you have not made a decision, we will kill you.”
I led the group. I led the group of 13-year-old children. They could not even lift the guns. Some children cried, saying, “We want to go back, we want to go back!” The recruitment place was so upsetting and then, when I got to the training camp, I was made sadder. Many people died in the training camp. When the major went to the toilet, Si Thu and I killed him. We took all his weapons and dropped his body into a deep ravine. For ten days we fled, for eight days we starved. We got malaria but we did not die. We went through mine fields but we were still alive. When we arrived at Mae Sot, in Thailand, Si Thu was killed by the Burmese military intelligence, and his eyes were taken out. I was lucky when I was there. My wish is to know why in Burma, with such young children as us, just 13, 14, 14 years of age… why is this happening to us? I believe there will be many more child soldiers just like me. What can I do so that these things will not happen to them?
Narrative provided by Speak 4 Change Foundation