UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Myanmar's government has made progress in reducing the recruitment of children into the armed forces but still needs to stamp out the practice.
Ban's comments came as Myanmar President Thein Sein was making a landmark visit to Washington. The former general met with President Barack Obama on Monday, marking a turnaround in the Asian nation's international acceptance after decades of isolation and direct military rule
Since last year, Myanmar's new government has overseen a wave of political reforms and progress toward democratic rule, though activists accuse Thein Sein of stalling of some commitments and failing to stem ethnic violence.
Last June, Myanmar's new civilian government signed an agreement with the United Nations to end the recruitment of children under the age of 18 as child soldiers.
While complaints about recruitment of child soldiers in Myanmar declined to 32 cases in 2012 from 172 cases in 2009, a new report to the Security Council found that the military continued to target unaccompanied children and orphans found in workplaces, streets, bus and train stations, ferry terminals, markets and their home villages.
The report said that from April 1, 2009 to Jan. 31, 2013, the International Labor Organization received 802 complaints of underage recruitment into the military, of which 770 cases were verified.
Calls to Myanmar's mission to the U.N. were not answered Tuesday.
A task force monitoring child soldiers noted that the majority of boys recruited were aged 14-17, but "children as young as 10 years old have also been reported to have been recruited," the report said.
The task force continued to receive reports of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups including Kachin, Karen, Shan State and Wa State rebel groups, the report said.
Ban also urged the government to close a loophole that allows the recruitment of 16-year-olds who have finished 10th grade and obtained special authorization from the Office of the Adjutant General to join the army.
In 2012, the report said, 167 boys were enlisted under this exception, which goes against the agreement that Myanmar signed with the U.N. banning the recruitment of child soldiers.