'I pray for peace'

A Myanmar teenager who will be eligible for compulsory
conscription explains why she lives in constant fear.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED  

Three years since Myanmar’s military overthrew the country’s democratically elected government, the introduction of compulsory conscription earlier this year triggered new levels of tragedy as young men and women must decide whether to fight or flee.   

As explained in this ABC news report three months ago, “The conscription law was first enacted by a previous junta in 2010 but never enforced. It allows the military to summon all men aged between 18 and 35 and women aged 18 to 27 to serve for up to five years in an emergency. The age cut-off for doctors, engineers and others who fit into a loosely defined category of “professionals” is higher at 35 for women and 45 for men. If conscripts refuse, they could face up to five years in prison.”  

Amidst the escalating violence, turmoil and fear, Jesuit Mission Australia is responding with humanitarian aid and support. “The compulsory conscription has further destabilised the country, leading to mass displacement and uncertainty,” said Helen Forde, CEO of Jesuit Mission Australia.  

“Over 3 million people have been displaced, seeking refuge from violence and persecution. Our local partners’ reports are chilling, yet they are determined to continue providing emergency relief, including shelter, medicines, food and education. 

Khine turns 18 this month and will therefore be eligible for conscription, but she noted these thoughts in March this year:  “It has been two weeks since the military junta made the announcement about forced military service. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I turn 18 in four months. I dread that day. I am so afraid. From that day on, I can be called up. I don’t know what I would be made to do if I am chosen. I don’t want to imagine it.  

“Before the coup, my life was peaceful. Our village was safe and harmonious, but now we live in constant fear, uncertain of what will happen. Family dinners and meetings with friends, once common, are now distant memories. I was always someone who loved school and I had a plan for my life. I wanted to become a nurse. I was studying hard at school and thought by 26 l would be a nurse, caring for people in our village. It was my dream, but now it seems impossible to achieve. 

“My school closed due to COVID. It was supposed to reopen but the coup led to another closure. I had to stop my education. The three years since then have aged me. Fear has disrupted the peaceful life we knew. 

“My family was forced to flee our village. We became separated as we fled from one place to another. Our relatives are now in different places and now I live with my mother only. The money she earns is just enough to eat, but not enough to pay the rent. So I went to find a job. It is not easy. I work hard. I am young but my body is stiff, and it hurts. 

“Without me, I don’t know how my mother would survive. I pray for peace. I pray I will not be conscripted. I remember the peaceful days and hope to live in harmony as a united family as before.” 

 

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