- Comparative Study of Child Soldiering on Myanmar-China Border: Evolutions, Challenges and Countermeasures by Kai Chen
As this book is the first comprehensive study of child soldiering on the Myanmar-China border it represents a welcome addition to the extensive literature on Myanmar politics and society. The book is clearly structured and logically argued, and this reviewer finds it valuable for those who are not only interested in armed conflict in Myanmar but the global problem of child soldiering in general.
“Limited Statehood” and “Transnational Public-Private Partnership” are two key concepts that form the conceptual framework of the author’s research. Limited statehood means that “central government is unable to implement and enforce rules in certain parts (or part) in its territory” (p. 11), while Transnational Public-Private Partnership means “continuous and relatively institutionalized transboundary interactions between public and private actors that formally strive for the provision of collective goods, whereas private actors can be for-profit and/or civil society organizations” (p. 12). As he is not satisfied with the existing definitions of “child soldiering”, the author argues that “the definition should refer to a process of associating any person below 18 years of age with any armed force or group which contains recruitment, training and deployment” (p. 18). The author discusses the intensity and various stages of armed conflicts in Myanmar, and the organizations involved in recruiting, training and deploying child soldiers as well as the negative consequences of child soldiering on the border.
The author provides six structural causes of child soldiering in Myanmar: first, the decentralization of security which allows local military units to mobilize resources for troops and conduct business for unit welfare; second, inadequate manpower resources, due mainly to high rates of desertion in the armed forces, an imbalanced population structure which results in a relative shortage of adults, and competition for manpower between the military and ethnic-based militias; third, insufficient legal enforcement; fourth, the displacement of children as a consequence of armed conflict, drug smuggling and the HIV/AIDS epidemic; fifth, stateless children due to the lack of marriage and birth registration; and sixth, chronic poverty. While the last five causes are quite obvious, this reviewer [End Page 143] finds it hard to understand the decentralization of security as a structural cause of child soldiering. The author appears to confuse the decentralization of security with the policy of turning a blind eye to child soldier recruitment which is a means to expand the force structure of the Myanmar armed forces.
In addition to structural causes, the author provides three situational contexts that force children into soldering. The author calls these contexts child solider-recruiter relationships. In the victim-coercer relationship, children are forcefully recruited with the use of threat, force, or violence, and sometimes by abduction. In the patron-client relationship, two motivating factors for children to serve in armed organizations are the need for survival and the desire for military prestige. In the comradeship relationship, children are motivated to join armed organizations in order to avenge the death of family members or because they have been ideologically motivated. In the case of why some children are recruited or involved in armed conflicts and not others, the author explains that those who are not recruited as child soldiers are mostly disabled children, child labourers or children seeking refuge in monasteries and/or with relatives.
How can the problem of child soldiering along the Myanmar-China border be reduced? According to the author, there is no optimal solution, and conventional approaches such as state-centred partnerships, i.e. finding solutions through working mostly with government agencies, and international intervention are of limited utility. Instead, the author proposes a multi-stakeholder Transnational Public-Private Partnership consisting of four essential elements: first, non-hierarchical relationships among all and participation by relevant partners such as civil society organizations, international NGOs, local NGOs and transnational companies; second, priority must be given to disadvantaged groups; third, risk allocation for funding, personnel safety and prospects for success must be divided...