The military junta in Myanmar has recently enforced conscription, impacting men aged 18-35 and women aged 18-27, with a service period of up to five years.  Professionals like doctors and engineers are not exempt, facing up to three years of service. This announcement comes in the aftermath of significant battlefield losses to resistance forces, including the fall of Laukkai, and follows previous orders recalling retired military personnel, training soldiers’ children, and assigning military duties to soldiers’ wives. 

In October 2023, an inquiry from an International Labour Organization commission found that since the coup the Myanmar military junta “continues to exact different types of forced labour in the context of armed conflict (…) as well as forced recruitment into the army.” The commission’s findings included cases of forced portering and the use of civilians as human shields in conflict. The enforcement of the conscription law worsens this situation.  

Reports from Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s partner organisations indicate the stressful situation on the ground, with young civilians panicking and seeking to leave the country in masses to avoid serving in the military which many of them have protested against. As one young activist told the BBC,If we serve in the military, we will be contributing to their atrocities.” Security forces are reportedly demanding bribes and ransoms from those unwilling to comply.

The junta’s strict measures include a 5-year jail term for objectors and evaders, a desperate attempt to counter defections, surrenders, and battlefield losses. 

Young people and women at risk 

The decision places people at great risk, with some considering fleeing the country or joining resistance forces rather than submitting to conscription. People interviewed by Nikkei Asia said they were willing to inflict harm upon themselves to secure an exemption from the draft. Single women were considering hasty marriages, while men were contemplating joining the monkhood to secure an exemption. 

The Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar condemned the imposition of conscription, labelling it a direct attack on youths aspiring to change the political system. “Forced conscription is tantamount to forced labour, and the announcement of compulsory military service blatantly violates international labour standards,” the confederation emphasised. 

Safe migration response 

Partners on the Thai-Myanmar border are evaluating the situation as the number of migrants rapidly increases. Initial actions include providing safe migration information to people before crossing the border to address issues related to documentation and vulnerability to exploitation.

Burmese workers, young people, and women are in urgent need of international support. Australian unionists are actively working for social justice in Myanmar and at its border with Thailand. Join us in supporting our partner organisations: 

Become a member of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA here

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