Note: both the Burmese army and the KNLA have child soldiers, but with one critical difference. The Burmese army forces children to take up arms - it press-gangs them to fight. The KNLA does no such thing.

Children should be with their families and in school. They should never be combatants in a war. It is easy to accept the stereotype that no culture should accept their use, and that any which does is bad. But, the situation is far more complex than this.

- What do you say to a culture in disarray and where there are many battlefield orphans, when there is little ability to spread the value that children must be protected, and then actually to do it?

- What do you say to a child on the run whose parents have been killed, and who can get two bowls of rice a day at a rebel camp in the forest, but none on his (or her) own?

- What do you say to a child whose parents have been killed, who understands better than anyone the need for justice, and who would like to get some?

- What do you say to a ten year old boy, whose parents have been killed, who manages to get a gun and kill two SPDC himself, and then, when he finds a group of his rebel soldiers, they take his gun?

- What do you say to parents who - in their entire lives - have known only war, who have no realistic expectation that the war will end, and who believe that their children will be safer if they learn to fight?

There were a few child soldiers (below the age of 16) in Lay Po camp (and many others, now older, who had joined the KNLA when they were young). A couple of the boys were actually on summer break, training to fight while school was out of session; others had followed their older brothers, or fathers. But, the Karen do not take boys on frontline missions. They stay behind as guards. After all, a child’s mistake could cost many lives. But what happens if the enemy attacks; an enemy that takes no prisoners - which kills everyone, including the elderly, women and children? In these cases, anyone who can, fights, and having had some training is greatly to be preferred.

The only option is such cases for those who would offer assistance is to find the child soldiers - one-by-one - and then try to convince them to let you help them. (This is not an easy task.)