“We are deciding now if we should sell the pigs this month or wait to see if the prices go up later in the new year,” says Nay Aung.

Nay Aung was recruited into the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) at age of 15 and released when he was turning 17. “Someone reported that I was underage and so I was sent home.”

The release came as part of an effort to end the practice of recruiting children into the military. In past decades, recruitment of children, almost exclusively boys, has been practiced across the country. These children have been uprooted from their families and friends, lived in very difficult circumstances in remote parts of the country, and have had to fight and even kill others.

Difficult transition

For some boys the transition home has been difficult. Often they have not enrolled for basic education, struggle with psychosocial stress caused by their experiences in armed conflict, and they can face stigma from others in their community who see them as dangerous.

To help reintegrate children affected by armed forces and armed groups, the Myanmar Red Cross in partnership with UNICEF, works to provide boys with access to essential basic services like health care and psychosocial support when they are released.

Nay Aung, who lives in a village near the capital city, Naw Pyi Daw, shares, “Having a Red Cross field officer visit and talk to me and my family and others in the village several times over the past few months has improved my social network and encouraged me to talk to others which has helped make me feel better.”

Zin Lin Min is also part of the Red Cross project and lives in a nearby village. He was recruited at the age of 17. “I joined the army because I was having many problems at home.”

He too has benefited from the psychosocial support aspects of the project. “It was hard to come back home. The Red Cross visits have been a help. Talking helps and it lets me work out my anger and come up with ideas of good ways to work through my problems.”

The importance of education

Providing access to education is another important element. Although for many this can be particularly challenging. “I wanted to go back to school and the Red Cross helped me. But I chose not to stay because the other students were several years younger than me. It was hard and I felt shame,” explains Nay Aung.

However, although he dropped out of school after only standard seven, Nay Aung has been able to use  the Red Cross funded  income generating investment and related technical advice, along with support from his family who have experience with pig farming, to successfully develop a small business buying, raising and selling pigs. Recently married, he now plans to use the profit to start a savings account. “Next year when our baby arrives it will have a good start.”

Since the start of the project in 2009, the Red Cross, with support from UNICEF, has supported 198 boys and men to reintegrate back into their communities.