Dozens of children have been killed and hundreds arbitrarily detained in Myanmar since a coup more than five months ago, UN rights experts said, as the political turmoil in the country continues amid a health emergency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN child rights committee reported on Friday that it had received “credible information” that 75 children had been killed and approximately 1,000 arrested in Myanmar since February 1.
“Children in Myanmar are under siege and facing catastrophic loss of life because of the military coup,” committee chair Mikiko Otani said in a statement.
Myanmar’s residents have taken part in mass protests but have been met with a brutal military response since the coup which deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Children are exposed to indiscriminate violence, random shootings and arbitrary arrests every day,” Otani said.
“They have guns pointed at them and see the same happen to their parents and siblings.”
The committee is made up of 18 independent experts who are tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Myanmar signed onto in 1991.
The experts said they “strongly condemned the killing of children by the junta and police”, pointing out that “some victims were killed in their own homes”.
They included a six-year-old girl in the city of Mandalay, shot in the stomach by police, the statement said.
The experts also slammed the widespread arbitrary detention of children in police stations, prisons and military detention centres.
They pointed to the military authorities reported practice of taking children hostage when they are unable to arrest their parents, including a five-year-old girl in Mandalay region whose father helped organise anti-military protests.
On Friday, Myanmar Now news website also reported that two minors, aged 12 and 15 were among seven villagers from Mandalay region’s Sintgaing township, who were detained and charged with possessing explosives.
The experts also voiced deep concern about the considerable disruptions in essential medical care and school education across the country.
Access to safe drinking water and food for children in rural areas had also been disrupted, they said.
They pointed out that the UN rights office had received credible reports that security forces were occupying hospitals, schools and religious institutions in the country, which were subsequently damaged in military actions.
They highlighted numbers from the UN children’s agency UNICEF indicating that one million children across Myanmar were missing out on key vaccines, while more than 40,000 children were no longer receiving the treatment they need for severe acute malnutrition.
“If this crisis continues, an entire generation of children is at risk of suffering profound physical, psychological, emotional, educational and economic consequences, depriving them of a healthy and productive future,” Otani warned.
As of Friday, the human rights monitor The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) in Myanmar reported that since the coup in February, at least 912 people have been killed, 6,770 have been arrested and 5,277 currently detained or sentenced while 1,963 are wanted by security forces.
Meanwhile, Myanmar media are reporting that Win Htein, a revered senior leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), has been charged by the military government with sedition, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The 79-year-old leader, who has been in detention in the capital, Naypyidaw, since February, pleaded not guilty to the charge, his lawyer was quoted as saying by Myanmar Now news website.
The crackdown takes place against the backdrop of an emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged the country’s healthcare system.
In the country’s largest city of Yangon, hospitals have been reportedly running out of oxygen supplies and people have been single-handedly trying to save their family members from succumbing to the disease. There have also been reports of coffins being sold out due to the surge in COVID-19 deaths.
According to reports, more than 200,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in the country, with more than 4,300 deaths, although medical experts say that real numbers could be much higher.