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Reviewed by:
  • Children Affected by Conflict in the Borderlands of Thailand by Kai Chen
  • Ornanong Husna Benbourenane (bio)
Children Affected by Conflict in the Borderlands of Thailand. By Kai Chen. Singapore: Springer, 2021. Hardcover: 88pp.

Children tend to be the most affected by war, which makes protecting children from the effects of armed conflict a moral imperative and an essential element to break the cycle of violence. Kai Chen’s Children Affected by Armed Conflict in the Borderlands of Thailand contributes to our understanding of the causes and dynamics of child soldiering along the Thai-Myanmar border and in Thailand’s Far South (where a Malay-Muslim insurgency has been raging since 2004), and discusses steps taken by the Thai government to confront this issue.

The book is comprised of nine chapters. The first three chapters engage with methodology, a review of child labour in history, and an overview of the nexus between child labourers, child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict. The fourth and fifth chapters examine the children exposed to armed conflicts on the Thai-Myanmar border and in Thailand’s Far South. The next three chapters explore the Thai government’s efforts to protect children from armed conflict and the obstacles it faces. The concluding chapter proposes alternative solutions to the problem.

The book provides a good background for readers to understand the effects of violent conflict between the Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) and ethnic-based militia in Myanmar on displaced children on the Thai-Myanmar border. Some vulnerable children volunteer to be child soldiers while others are recruited by the Tatmadaw and ethnic militia groups. There are about 120,000 long-term internally displaced persons and refugees in camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. This figure includes displaced children who fled from Myanmar as well as those who were born in the refugee camps. To survive, many of these children become child labourers. Unfortunately, some of them go on to face even more severe exploitation in the form of forced indentured labour.

Chen stresses that peace and security in Myanmar is a precondition for the resettlement of children affected by armed conflict. He points to other resettlement concerns, including the challenge of identifying returnees and verifying their ages and other issues such as security, safety, landmine clearance and the provision of adequate housing. As armed conflict in Myanmar is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, he predicts the high levels of emigration from Myanmar to Thailand along the borders will continue. [End Page 589]

In examining children affected by armed conflict in Thailand’s Far South, Chen provides readers with detailed descriptions of the dynamics of the security situation. First, he points out that the new generation of insurgents employ tactics different from those of previous generations. They embed themselves within the local population in the Far South and typically hold no prior criminal records, making it difficult for authorities to identify them. They also tend to be sceptical of government peace initiatives. Second, Chen discusses measures taken by the Thai government which intensified violence in the Far South. These measures included the passing of special security legislation, support for paramilitary organizations and the militarization of monasteries. He stresses that immunity provisions in the special security legislation shield the military and other officials from accountability for torture and other ill-treatment of those known or suspected to be involved with separatist groups. As the violence between the security forces and insurgents intensified, the trust gap between authorities and the Malay-Muslim population widened considerably. Paramilitary organizations and insurgent groups have reportedly recruited, armed and deployed children in this conflict.

In the final section of the book, Chen sets out to examine the “most effective solutions offered by the Thai government” in the form of supportive arrangements, criminalization of child soldiering and strengthening legislation to protect children (p. 57). On the Thai-Myanmar border, the Thai government established 130 migrant learning centres that provide a safe place for children to learn and develop with support from local and international donors and volunteers. The Thai authorities also legalized formal and non-formal education given to undocumented and non-Thais in these learning centres. The issuance of...