FAIRFIELD, Conn. June 22, 2020Violence against children during the armed conflict in Myanmar’s central Rakhine state has been on a sharp rise, despite urgent calls from the UN Secretary-General for a global ceasefire to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of children killed or maimed in the violence rose six-fold in the first three months of this year compared to the previous three months, Save the Children warned today. 

According to multiple monitoring sources,i between January and March this year in central Rakhine state alone, 18 children were killed and 71 children were physically injured or maimed, in comparison to three killed and 12 injured children between October and December 2019.ii That represents a dramatic increase in just a three-month period.

Extortion, killing, and maiming are the top three abuses impacting children in central Rakhine. Severe underreporting of violations against children continues to be a huge challenge across Myanmar, where whole areas, including northern Rakhine and southern Chin states, remain largely sealed off to independent observers.

The conflict in these areas between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) and the Arakan Army flared up in late 2018, and intensified earlier this year, in spite of the COVID-19 crisis. The civilian population bears the brunt of this conflict, in part due to repeated armed clashes with heavy weaponry in populated areas.

While grave violationsiii against children have increased in central Rakhine state, they have decreased in northern Shan state, which saw a significant reduction in child victims of grave violations in the six months between October 2019 and March 2020. While this is a positive trend, children still account for 35 percent of all victims, with killing, maiming, and forced recruitment the top violations affecting children in northern Shan.

The UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report released last week confirms the widespread nature of grave violations against children in Myanmar in 2019, and underlines the urgency of action by all armed actors to address them, Save the Children urged today. 

The report verified a total of 432 grave violations against 420 children in Myanmar, including the killing (41) and maiming (120) of 161 children (108 boys, 51 girls, two sex unknown), some as young as six months. Further verified reports confirm 12 attacks against schools, and the abduction of 12 children by non-state armed actors. The Tatmadaw recruited eight boys in 2019 and used 197 children in functions such as camp maintenance, brick carrying, and rice paddy harvesting, an increase compared with the 2018 data. Shockingly, the UN Secretary-General took the decision to delist the Tatmadaw for the grave violation of recruitment and use of children.

Last week, Save the Children called for an independent assessment on how the UN Secretary-General had implemented the listing and delisting criteria in this year’s report. The open debate on Children and Armed Conflict between UN members states scheduled for today in New York will provide a first opportunity to scrutinize the decision-making process that underpins delisting, to ensure an accurate and consistent report moving forward.

Duncan Harvey, Myanmar National Director, Save the Children, said:

“The numbers paint a stark picture. While some progress has been made, notably in northern Shan, the situation in central Rakhine has gone from bad to worse over the past few months. Children are at serious risk of being killed or maimed in the ongoing conflicts between the Myanmar military and various armed groups, all while having to cope with the threat of COVID-19.

“The widespread use of mines and improvised explosive devices poses a specific threat to children, for instance while playing, picking fruit, or walking to and from school. Children’s well-being is also under threat by other conflict-related risks, such as displacement, malnutrition, mental trauma, attacks on schools, and interruption of education.

“We cannot forget the children of Myanmar who continue to face daily risks to their safety, health, and well-being. The only way forward is for all parties to the conflict to stop the killing and maiming of civilians, commit to a ceasefire, and take all necessary steps to hold the perpetrators of grave violations accountable for their crimes.”

[i] Data sets available upon request.

[ii] Between Jan-Mar this year, 89 children were killed or maimed in central Rakhine state, compared to 15 children killed or maimed between Oct and Dec 2019. That is a 5.93-fold increase.

[iii] The six grave violations serve as the basis to gather information and report on violations affecting children, and are: Killing and maiming of children; Recruitment or use of children as soldiers; Sexual violence against children; Abduction of children; Attacks against schools or hospitals; Denial of humanitarian access for children.