Burma: Regime outlaws student unions

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Student unions and informal student groups have been banned in Burmese + schools, which have reopened after being closed for months. Human rights groups+ have described the situation on campuses and in schools as volatile. Children + and youths must join the government-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development + Association (USDA). "High-school and university students are threatened with + losing their places at school if they do not join the union. In other cases + only USDA membership can guarantee access to scarce teaching resources such as + computers and language laboratories," a report by Human Rights Watch Asia + says.The union was set up by the military government in 1993, following three + years of severe unrest involving pupils as young as 13. USDA targets children + and young people with the intention of instilling loyalty to the nation and + respect for the armed forces and creating a patriotic youth force, the rights + group says.Within two years of its foundation the union had more than 2.5 + million members, the majority of them high-school students and teachers. + Nevertheless, high-school students demonstrated in Rangoon late last year, + calling for more rights. They wanted to be able to form independent students' + unions - an indication that USDA is seen as a government tool. Riot police + arrested more than 300 youths, but others have "disappeared". Rights groups do+ not know how many are still in detention.The military regime continues to use + of school-age children, particularly from rural and poor families, as unpaid + forced labour. Last year Human Rights Watch Asia saw pupils and their teachers+ in Mrauk-Oo, Arakan state, clearing the streets in preparation for a visit by + a military official. "We witnessed one young boy, aged about 12, who was kicked+ in the face by a soldier because he had temporarily stopped working. It + happened to be a day for national exams, which meant that because all schools + in Mrauk-Oo were temporarily closed, no children were able to take their final + year exams," a member of the rights group said.Yojana Sharma

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