by Grace Powell, HRAC intern
“I experienced my first battle at Bayintnaung and Kanelay. Because it was my first experience I [was] really scared during the battle. I was 14.”—Hein Min Aung, Former Child Soldier in Burmese Army
I was sitting there, in the basement office of a rowhouse on Capital Hill, reading the report. It was my first week at Human Rights Action Center, a small human rights organization run by former director of Amnesty International, John Healey. The organization has been working to end human rights in Burma (Myanmar) for the past twenty years. I was seventeen when I started working for HRAC, still in high school and totally inexperienced.
The report hit me in that way that I think only happens when you’re a teenager, when you have the capability to be totally and completely moved by something you hear or something you read. Reading that Burma has more child soldiers today than does any country in the world, that boys as young as seven or eight are forced to carry guns and shoot civilians and that they are beaten for crying and not permitted to contact their families was a shock. We all hear about the plight of child soldiers in places like Uganda, but the well-kept secret of the Burmese government is that they have bolstered the size of their military by conscripting children. And it’s not just the government. Opposition groups in Burma have done the same thing to both boys and girls.
Given the chance to work on my own project at HRAC, I decided to focus on the issue of child soldiers. With the help of Mr. Healey, I got into contact with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. We began calling Representatives on the Foreign Affairs Committee to see if they would be interested in working with us to raise awareness about the plight of Burmese child soldiers in Congress.
The office of Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, the sponsor of a resolution calling for governments around the world to end the use of child soldiers, offered to sponsor an informational briefing on the issue. Working with Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, we found a former child soldier by the name of Hein Min Aung, an incredible young man who offered to tell his story in the briefing in the hopes of drawing attention to the nearly 70,000 young boys still in the Burmese military today.
Despite the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, has finally been released from house arrest, human rights abuses are still rampant in Burma today. While activists hope that her release will bring much needed change to Burma, the child soldiers of Burma cannot wait for slow-moving political change. They need help now.
The briefing is set to take place on August 3rd, 2011 at 4pm in 2253, Rayburn Office Building. The story that Mr. Aung tells on that day is not going to be easy to hear. And yet, it’s a story that I think needs to be told, because this is one of those issues that is only going to change if people start to get informed, and get involved.
Is the briefing itself going to create mass change in Burma, is it going to free even one child soldier from the government military? The answer is, unfortunately not. And yet, maybe somebody in that briefing room will be moved by what they hear that afternoon. Maybe the next time they hear the word “Burma,” they will think of Mr. Aung and the thousands of boys like him.
It’s going to take a lot of people, a lot of money and a lot of dedication to end the use of child soldiers in Burma. But we’ve got to start somewhere. So come by the briefing—it’s open to the public, and you just might find yourself interested in what Mr. Aung has to say.