The Nation: Stop using kids in security operations, report urges

The Thai government is exposing children to “significant risk” by permitting village defence militias (VDMs) in the restive deep South to use them in their security work.
The ongoing insurgency in the three southernmost provinces has claimed more than 4,300 lives since January 2004.

In a report released yesterday, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Justice for Peace Foundation (JPF) of Angkhana Neelaphaijit said children between the ages of nine and 17 had taken part in weapons training with government-trained VDMs, known locally as the Chor Ror Bor.

Although the Interior Ministry does not recruit under-18s into VDMs, it needs to do more to prevent them from getting involved with their activities, said Victoria F Adam, director of the London-based NGO.

“The militias are armed with a mixture of shotguns and automatic weapons,” the JPF’s Arachapon Nimitkulpon said at a press conference. “On occasion, the militias are required to take part in military operations, including searches for insurgent suspects,” she said.

Arachapon said local communities appeared to be unconcerned and supportive at times of children from their villages being used for security purposes.

The VDMs were set up in 1985 to replace the network of village defence volunteers that first emerged in the 1960s to combat communist insurgency. JPF and the coalition conducted field research in Thailand’s deep South last year, finding that children were conducting similar tasks as the government-trained VDM members in at least 13 of the 19 villages they studied.

“They patrol the village, man checkpoints and guard sites vulnerable to attack,” the report said. “They may also be required to assist the local police or the military to identify suspects, including suspected members of armed groups, and on occasion are required to participate in military operations in the surrounding area.”

Adam cited an incident in which two children were killed in a military operation. She said evidence indicated that Malay-Muslim separatists were also using child soldiers in their attacks against the Thai state.

“Children have suffered greatly because of the armed violence in the South and a more comprehensive strategy is needed to protect them,” Adam said. “Any military activity is detrimental to children.”

The report called on the government to “explicitly criminalise” the use of children under 18 and warned that Thailand could end up on the UN Security Council’s watch list – known as the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism – if the use of children in conflict zones continued unchecked.