“Sold to Be Soldiers”


Harper’s Magazine (August 2008)
From interviews compiled in “Sold to Be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma,” issued last October by Human Rights Watch. The report found that conscription of boys under eighteen is a common practice to fulfill recruitment quotas in Burma’s nominally all-volunteer national army, the Tatmadaw Kyi, which is fighting various resistance groups in the country.

I was about eleven years old and a student. When I was returning from watching videos one night, there were no lights along the road to my house. I met two soldiers, and they arrested me for “hiding in the dark.” They took me to their army camp and asked me, “Do you want to join the army or go to Jail?” I was afraid of jail, so I said I’d join the army. They asked about my family, and they filled in a paper. They asked my age, so I told them the truth, but they wrote eighteen.

-Htun Myint

The elders stayed in separate barracks. One day, the corporal said to them, “You are all twentyfive years old.” One elder said, “Can I be a bit older than that?” and he said, “No.” Another elder said, “But I’m sixty already,” and the corporal kicked him. At training, out of 250, about 150 were underage and thirty were in their sixties. We had a nickname for their platoon-the “Stand and Watch Column.” They were unemployed men who were tricked by. being told, “We’ll find you a job and a place for your family,” and some had been arrested while walking home drunk at night. .

-Maung Zaw 00

I couldn’t do all the training. Even lifting the gun was too hard for me. The G3 assault rifle came up to my shoulder. But the trainers were sympathetic and understanding; they favored me and the other youngsters. In my platoon, about half were my age. The trainers said to the youngest, “We don’t want to train you, but it’s our duty, we have.orders,” I was missing my family, and I cried. For some parts of the training we young trainees were allowed to stay in the barracks, but then whenever people lost things we were blamed and punished by the camp authorities-five lashes with a bamboo stick-and I cried then too.

-My in Win

Only one person was caught trying to escape. All two hundred forty-nine others had to beat him on the buttocks and the back of his thighs with a green bamboo. I felt pity for my friend, so I hit him lightly, and the sergeant came and said, “Don’t hit like that, hit like this,” and hit me, and then made me hit my friend again. One hundred fifty recruits had already beaten him by then, and he was crying. The sergeant was pinning his arms down with his back to me, so I couldn’t see his face-he was facedown with his legs in the stocks. He was bloody because sometimes the sticks broke when they hit him. After the beating, the sergeants carried him to the barracks with his legs still in the stocks and laid him on the cement floor without a mat. He died that night. His name was Thet Naing Soe, he was eighteen. After that the sergeants said, “If you run away, we’ll do the same to you.”

-Sai Seng

We were ordered that if we see anyone we should shoot them. Our battalion commander himself said, “Shoot everyone you see and burn the village.” He didn’t exclude women and children, whomever we saw we were ordered to shoot. In summer we burned down trees-coconut, betel, cardamom. In the dry season we tried to burn the rice fields, and in the rainy season the battalion was ordered to trample the rice plants.

-Myin Win

I can’t remember how old I was the first time I was involved in fighting. About thirteen. That time we walked into a Karenni ambush, and four of our soldiers died. I was afraid because I was very young, so I tried to run back, but the captain shouted, “Don’t run back! If you run back, I’ll shoot you myself!”

-Aung Zaw

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