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Burma: children and teenagers victims of brutal military actions

An army that owns a state. Repetition of history. A country on the brink of collapse. These are the most common slogans appearing during the debate on the current events in Burma [1]. The unrest that has been going on for over two months intensified and civilians, including children, are dying as a result of the fighting.

Mulmejno. Her father was cracking coconuts when he saw her daughter taking hesitant steps. The fruit in her hand fell on a red stain on the ground. The girl was shot in the temple in the afternoon and died shortly after dusk.

It is not fully known why the sniper ended up in that area and Aye Myat Thu became his victim. The same goes for other children, who most often died “by accident” – while playing outdoors or near their caregivers. “I have no power to take revenge on those who killed my daughter. I only hope that their turn will soon come,” says Aye Myat Thu’s mother. [2]

What is happening in Burma?

On February 1, 2021, there was a coup in which the army detained the leader of the government, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her colleagues from the National League for Democracy. According to the military, the elections held in November 2020 were rigged. Over time, they began to accuse the leader of the country of other crimes. While in power, she was to accept bribes in dollars and gold.

There has been controversy about Aung San Suu Kyi, which has made her lose in the eyes of the West. It is about the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that fled to Bangladesh in 2017 after an army attack that killed nearly 7,000 people.

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The UN then accused the military of genocide, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague opened an investigation. Aung San Suu Kyi did not condemn the Rohingya killings and did not want to grant them citizenship. However, for society she remained the “mother of the nation” – she won last year’s elections with a significant advantage, and in 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for democracy and human rights without the use of violence. [3]

After the coup d’état, citizens started to express their opposition about the army’s actions. Over time, peaceful protests turned into guerrillas, and to suppress them the military has used, among others, rubber balls and water cannons. [4]

The situation of children and teenagers in Burma

Not only adults take part in the protests. As of March 31, around 900 children and adolescents were detained for acts against the military. Some of them have been released, but a large group is still left without a legal aid. Experts are concerned about the impact of fighting on the physical and mental health of children, as the consequences of these events may stay with them for the rest of their lives. However, the threat does not only appear during the protests. Children are also not safe in schools or medical facilities. It has been estimated that the army carried out at least 35 acts of arrest and violence against teachers and medics. It began taking over educational and medical facilities for military purposes. [5]

A coup d’état in the time of the global COVID-19 pandemic could have catastrophic consequences. Burma is facing a huge economic and humanitarian crisis. It is threatening the chances of young people for a better future. Already, many of them have been deprived of access to certain services. It has been estimated that currently around 40,000 children suffer from malnutrition. Also early a million have been deprived of access to basic vaccines, and up to 12 million are at risk of losing another school year.

International response

Although the situation is serious, the international response leaves much to be desired. The UN Security Council calls for the observance of human rights and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but did not condemn the coup d’état.

China and Russia, the largest arms suppliers to Burma, are blocking the UN arms embargo. In turn, the European Union wants to impose sanctions on people and companies associated with the army. [6] “We must not disappoint the Myanmar children at this critical juncture when their lives, prosperity, and future are at stake. We will always be firmly on their side,” says Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, in her statement on the situation in Burma. [7]

Different forms of resistance

A soft white flower. This is the translation of the name of 14-year-old Pan Ei Phyu. The teenager, like Aye Myat Thu, used to record videos on TikTok in her free time. But she was using the platform not only for entertainment. The girl used to place political content on her profile, singing pro-democratic songs. It was her way of fighting the army, as her mother had banned her from participating in street protests. Pan Ei Phyu was shot in her own home on March 27. She was one of 11 minors killed on the day of the worst riots. Her death shocked the entire family. Her mother’s despair is immeasurable: “I feel life without my daughter is worth nothing. I would like to die instead of her. ” [8]

“The costs of international inactivity have been counted in bodies, including those of children shot in their homes,” – says Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director. [9]

Recently, the world saw the photo of Anna Rose Nu Tawng, who showed great courage. The Catholic nun knelt in front of the armed policemen, pleading them to spare the children in exchange for taking her life. It was not her first act of defending minors. On February 28, the woman acted in a similar way. “I cannot stand by and look idly at what is happening, when Burma is in grief,” – said the nun. [10]

The army does not admit to violence

13-year-old Htoo Myat Win, 17-year-old Kyat Min Latt, and 14-year-old Tun Tun Aung were other victims of the Burmese army, which denies killing children. Military spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, said protesters are taking advantage of minors in street riots. “In some places they provoke children to take part in riots. For this reason, they can get hit when the security forces deal with the crowd. There is no reason why we should shoot children. The terrorists are trying to put us in a bad light.” [11] He also added that the military uses minimal force to suppress demonstrators. Meanwhile, on March 27, which was the day of the bloodiest protests, as many as 140 people were killed. Foreign media described the day as a “day of disgrace”. [12]

The youngest victim of the army was 7-year-old Khin Myo Chit. The girl was killed on her father’s lap after the military entered their property. [13]

What is the future of Burma?

Michał Lubina, PhD, DsC – a specialist in contemporary Burma – in an interview with Salam Lab predicts three potential scenarios. In the first, least likely, the generals will turn to the protesters and the army will split. In the second, “Syrian”, armed groups will fight, more guerrillas will form, and the country will be swallowed up by an internal war. In the third, most likely, the military forces will silence the protests and seize power. Lubina claims that other countries will not get involved in the conflict, although the only way to alleviate it would be for Asian countries to take action. No-one is safe in Burma, and the future can be described in the words of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father and the founder of the country, General Aung San, who once said “I hope for the best but expect the worst.” 

In this situation, one thing is certain. The aim of the army is to intimidate the public and show that nothing limits its activities. Citizens, including children and teenagers, must face harsh reality. So far, more than 40 children have been killed in Burma as a result of the army’s actions.

Sources:

  1. http://www.polska-azja.pl/birma-myanmar-mjanma-czyli-rzecz-o-nazwach/,
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/04/world/asia/myanmar-coup-deaths-children.html,
  3. https://raportostanieswiata.pl/w-powiekszeniu/birma/https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/swiat/aung-san-suu-kyi-kim-jest-przywodczyni-birmy-mjanmy/7sd17m8https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41566561,
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/article/myanmar-news-protests-coup.html,
  5. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmar-security-forces-with-rifle-grenades-kill-over-80-protesters-monitoring-2021-04-10/,
  6. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/04/1088952,
  7. https://www.polskieradio24.pl/5/1223/Artykul/2713376,Chiny-i-Rosja-utrudniaja-miedzynarodowa-reakcje-Josep-Borrell-o-sytuacji-w-Birmie,
  8. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/brutal-violence-security-forces-myanmar-leaves-dozens-dead-including-multiple,
  9. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56636345,
  10. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/myanmar-five-year-old-killed-among-hundred/,
  11. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/09/shoot-me-instead-myanmar-nuns-plea-to-spare-protesters,
  12. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/04/08/asia/myanmar-zaw-min-tun-interview-intl-hnk/index.html,
  13. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/27/myanmar-coup-leaders-put-on-show-of-force,
  14. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/3/24/7-year-old-girl-killed-as-crackdown-in-myanmar-continues.

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