Sunday, November 16, 2008

‘I struggled to carry my gun’- the Child Soldiers of Burma

November 15th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Ckild_Soldier.JPGBurma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world.

The overwhelming majority of Burma’s child soldiers are found in the national army, which forcibly recruits children as young as 11, although armed opposition groups use child soldiers as well.

Burma’s army has doubled in size since 1988, and with an estimated 350,000 soldiers is now one of the largest armies in Southeast Asia.

The US based right ground Human Rights Watch says 20 percent or more of Burma’s active duty soldiers may be children under the age of 18.

Army deserters are severely punished so many child soldiers that escape the military flee across the border into refugee camps in Thailand.

At one such camp in Mae Hong Son province north of Thailand, King Kong Janoi met with some former child soldiers and has their story.

Children learn English in a refugee camp in Northern Thailand.

They’re all ethnic Karen and have fled across the border from Burma to escape the civil war.

Amongst them is 18 year old Yae Lay. He is a former child solider.

“They captured me while I was coming back from seeing a movie. They accused me of breaking the night time curfew and told me I had two choices- join the military or go to jail. As I was just a little boy I was afraid of jail so I decided to join the army.”

Yae Lay was just eleven years old when he began serving with the Light Infantry Battalion 135.

He is from Pugo Township in central Burma but he was sent to fight in the Shan State against Shan State Army troops.

“I was just a little boy so I couldn’t carry the gun. At first I was nervous. I was really afraid of all the gun fire around me. I will never forget seeing some of my friends die in front of me. They were my age. The young ones were often send to the front line to get more experience. I was very lucky that I survived and didn’t step on a land mine.”

Human Rigths watch says there are reports of children being used to clear land mines at the frontline.

Way Lin says he lost his foot this way.

He joined the Burmese military when he was 11 and fought against the Karen National Union in Southern Burma for seven years.

He tried to escape many times and finally managed to cross the border into Thailand with the help of Karenni troops.

Way Lin now walks with the help of a plastic foot. He says it still causes him pain.

“I sometime cry because I miss my mom and my family but there is no chance for me to find them. I have to stay calm. When I get refugee status in America or Australia I hope I can contact my family. That’s what the UNHCR has told me. I am waiting to leave this camp.”

While waiting to be granted refugee status in a wealthy nation he helps other disabled children in the camp.

He says it takes time for child soldiers to return to normal life.

Yae Lay says he often gets nightmares that he is back in the military.

“I often dream that they will find me and arrest me. When I wake up I have to calm myself done and tell myself that I am safe now. But I am still nervous all the time. If they find me again my life is over.”

Burma’s army has doubled in size since 1988, and with an estimated 350,000 soldiers is now one of the largest armies in Southeast Asia.

UNHCR Worker in the camp Sayar Tun Tun predicts the recruitment of children will continue.

“The reason they use children is because they can train then do do whatever they want. It’s hard to persuade adults to join the military because the salary is so low so they target young boys.”

Burma consultant Sunai Phasuk from Human Right Watch says while the Burmese military have made promises to end the practice of using child soldiers it’s unlikely they will do it.

“The Burmese government seems to be more sensitive to international pressure because having children in armed forces is so obvious, you cannot hide them from the international scrutiny. So we are seeing more and more responses from the Burmese government at least on papers with orders to units of the ground to stop recruiting children but the problem in Burma is that those orders have not translated into action on the ground. So we are still see children being recruited.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Day with an Award Winning Thai Rural Doctor

November 8th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

This week our profile of an inspiring Asia woman comes from the mountainous province of Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand bordering Burma.

For this is where we find the clinic of a female doctor who has received Thailand’s highest award for rural medicine.

For the last fourteen years Walairat Chaifu has being providing medical care to the hilltribe communities at her Pang Ma Pha hospital.

She once turned down a senior position at the Public Health Ministry because she wanted to continue working in the remote region.

Our correspondent King Kong Janoi spends a day in her.

Doctor Walairat Chaifu asks a mother about her child’s illness in her clinic in Pang Ma Pha.

She has short black hair and is always smiling and laughing.

The hospital is a hive of activity- Doctors and nurses are busy.

About 30 people are waiting for their turn to get treatment. An average wait is half-an-hour.

Mu Shar is one of them.

“We only have this hospital in our district. I always come here when my children are got sick. I come here for ten years ago. Before we only have community health care center, we don’t have any hospital.”

Before he and the rest of the 13,000 people in this district had to travel three hours to the nearest hospital.

Doctor Walairat is passionate about rural medicine.

“I would like to make community to be healthy. To work here and to improve health situation here is not just for funds. Also it is not just for my duty.”

The hospital treats around 2000 patients each month.

But some patients can’t afford to make the trip to the hospital.

So every weekend Dr Walairat makes house calls with her mobile medical team.

They have to travel long distances sometimes two hours on bumpy dirt roads. During the rainy season these roads often become impassable so they have to get out and walk up the steep mountains.

One the mobile teams nurses says at first some of the people from Shan, Karen and Hmong tribes were afraid of coming to the hospital.

She says they have to spend time with them gaining people’s trust.

There is also often a language barrier and Dr Walairat has to use a translator while treating some patients.

Mu Sayy an ethnic Shan says the community is very grateful for the mobile clinic. He says the doctors and nurses never discriminate against them because they can’t speak Thai.

The mobile medical unit also educates communities about good health care to prevent diseases.

Mu Sayy says they learn a lot from them.

“The doctors come to educate us how to prevent ourselves in systematically way. They told us to clean our hand when eat food. When we use chemical for killing virus in our plantation, they suggest us to use mask while we are working to prevent chemical affected. If we feel sick, they ask us to go to hospital. So far we learn a lot from them.”

The mobile clinic also provides at-home treatment of patients with diabetes, a major health problem in the Northeast.

Dr Walairat’s work has been recognized and last month she was the joint-winner of the annual Thai Rural Doctors Society award for outstanding service to the rural poor.

Siriporn Muangsrinon from the Women Lawyers Association of Thailand says she is an inspiring person.

“I hope we will get more doctors like her in other provinces. We would like to see more women like her and she is best example for our community.”

Dr Walairat was offered a senior position at the Public Health Ministry.

But she turned it down.

“I happy to work here because of patients, because of community, because to our staff, I feel there is a lot work to do here. My personality I like rural area. I used to work in public health ministry staying in Bangkok but I don’t like in Bangkok. The rural area is good social relationship.”