Myanmar’s military junta killed 165 children in 2022, according to the country’s exiled opposition National Unity Government (NUG). According to their data, 78% more children died at the hands of the occupying military in 2022 compared with 2021.
“The NUG figure appears credible,” says Thomas Kean, a senior consultant on Myanmar for the International Crisis Group, explaining that reports are often accompanied by evidence.
Analysis by local media suggests artillery attacks targeting forces resistant to the junta were mainly to blame. Myanmar has spiralled into bloody conflict since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in February 2021, with thousands of people killed.
Artillery and air power is more indiscriminate, Kean said, and according to a spokesperson at the NUG’s Ministry of Women, Youths and Children Affairs, the military regime is intensifying their bombing and airstrikes, targeting schools operating in NUG controlled areas.
In September, over a dozen children were killed in an airstrike on a school in Sagaing, in November children were among the victims of a shelling in Rakhine state and a number of children were among the dead in 2021’s Christmas Eve massacre in Kayah state.
A ministry spokesperson encouraged airstrike drill training among young people. “Local communities, resistance organisations and the NUG have to provide bomb shelters nearby schools,” they said.
The increased reliance on artillery and air power is down to stretched manpower, Kean said, but also serves as collective punishment for communities believed to be supporting the junta’s opponents.
“This fits in with a pattern of how it wages war, civilians are often deliberately targeted,” he said, adding that the torching of homes and destruction of entire villages isn’t uncommon.
There have also been reports of children being beaten, cut, stabbed, burned with cigarettes and having fingernails pulled out, Thomas Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said in June.
“They have been forced to hold stress positions; they have been subjected to mock executions; they have been sexually assaulted,” he said, adding that children are often held hostage until their parents give themselves up.
A UN report released in June, put the number of children tortured since the coup at 142 with more than 1,400 arbitrarily detained. As of 27 December the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners listed a total 2,660 people as having been murdered since the start of the coup.
Aside from the threat of violence, children are experiencing malnutrition, limited access to clean water, health care and education, with 5.6 million children in need of humanitarian assistance.
The UN Child Rights Committee has previously called for perpetrators to be held accountable and for assistance to be delivered safely to Myanmar’s children.