By Robin Gomes
A rights group has strongly condemned all forms of violence against children in conflict situations as fighting between Myanmar’s army and the insurgent Arakan Army intensified in Rakhine state.
Some 20 children were injured on Thursday when mortar shells hit their school in Khamwe Chaung village in Buthidaung township in the restive state of Rakhine. Government forces and the Arakan Army have accused each other over the shelling.
Artillery fire hit the school in Khamwe Chaung village in Buthidaung township in the restive state of Rakhine. Government forces and the Arakan Army have accused each other over the shelling.
‘Save the Children’ condemns attack
“Our thoughts are with the children and their families impacted by this horrible incident,” said Duncan Harvey, national director for Save the Children in Myanmar.
“It is not just our moral obligation to make sure children are safe and secure but a legal one too. All the warring parties in Myanmar have a duty under international law to make sure children are protected and schools are kept out of the line of fire.”
For a child in a conflict zone, Harvey said, the school provides access to a safe space to learn, protection from risks such as violence, child marriage and recruitment into armed groups, and a crucial sense of routine and calm.
“Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations against children and this is yet another tragic indication that conflict is intensifying for children,” he added.
At least seven civilians have been killed and 30 injured in the past 13 days in fighting in Rakhine, according to aid groups. The Rakhine conflict has killed at least 90 civilians and displaced thousands more since it flared up again in December 2018.
At least 44,000 people are displaced in 119 sites in Rakhine and more than 1,800 people are displaced in 12 sites in Chin state, according to the UN.
The Arakan Army is a largely Buddhist militia fighting for greater autonomy and rights of indigenous ethnic Rakhine in the state. Rakhine also has a separate conflict that has seen more than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya flee to neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017 due to military offensives.
UN against violence against children
On Wednesday, International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres lamented that hostilities were soaring against some 250 million youth living in countries affected by fighting.
Speaking at a high-level Security Council briefing at the UN in New York, he said emphasized that children have “no role in conflict” and that “attacks on hospitals and schools deny children education, healthcare and lifesaving emergency assistance and force families from their homes”.
Guterres pointed out that children in war zones are threatened by “horrific abuses” such as sexual violation, abduction, being enlisted as child soldiers or exploited as messengers.
“These violations cause lasting damage to the children themselves, and to their communities and societies to which they belong”, Guterres said, warning that this can “feed the grievances and frustrations that lead to extremism, creating a vicious circle of tension and violence.”