Junta security forces have detained a four-year-old boy from a preschool in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon, according to eyewitnesses, who say they believe the child is being used to obtain information on an armed opposition group.
Thant Phone Waiyan was taken into custody on Tuesday, his fourth birthday, from the Best Choice Kindergarten on Settwin Road in Yangon’s Alone township, a teacher at the school told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
After arriving at the school at around 12:40 p.m., a group of 20 soldiers initially sent in a plainclothes officer who told teachers that he was the boy’s uncle. The teacher said that staff “blocked the doorway with both hands and didn’t let him get in,” and that she told the officer she had plans to adopt the boy and would not let anyone take him.
“At that moment, another group of men came in with their guns. There were about four or five of them. While I was arguing with them, two guys pushed me aside to get in,” the teacher told RFA.
“One teacher brought out the boy and they looked at him from head to toe before taking him away. They were about to handcuff me at first, but they changed their mind.” The incident reportedly lasted around 10 minutes.
A source close to the family, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that two days after the arrest, the child’s mother Ma Wai was “hit by a car,” and then “shot and detained” in Yangon. Other family members have reportedly since fled in fear of being targeted. The source indicated that the reason for the arrest may be to pressure Ma Wai to provide information about members of the anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) paramilitary group, which has risen up in opposition to the military’s Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
“It is believed that the child was arrested so that she could be coerced to yield secret information because she knew they had her child,” the source said. It was not immediately clear what ties Mai Wai has to the PDF, if any.
A resident of Yangon’s Sin Min Ward, where the child is from, condemned the abduction.
“If they want to make an arrest, arrest the parents. What can the child know? I feel sorry for the child. I also have kids,” said the resident, who declined to be named.
“[The military is] just kidnapping the kid because they want to get to the parents.”
Other sources told RFA that the military had “detained several people” since Tuesday, which they suggested had been made based on the earlier arrests. RFA was unable to independently confirm the detentions.
When asked about the reports of Thant Phone Waiyan’s arrest, junta Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun dismissed them as false.
“It doesn’t make sense. They are talking nonsense. Which child did we arrest? There is no record of such arrests,” he said.
While Zaw Min Tun denied that security forces had arrested Thant Phone Waiyan, he acknowledged to RFA in January that “some children” have been detained in raids.
According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, authorities have arrested 255 children between the ages of nine months and 18 years since last year’s coup. Of those arrested, 62 have been released, but 191 remain imprisoned and two have been sentenced to death, the group says.
Khin Maung Myint, a veteran lawyer, told RFA on Thursday that Thant Phone Waiyan’s arrest was made in violation of both Myanmar’s Penal Code and the Protection of the Rights of the Child Act.
“They arrested the child for his parents’ actions,” he said. “Even if a child committed a crime or even a murder, they would have no right to arrest or prosecute the child. Children are already protected by law.”
Ei Thinzar Maung, Deputy Minister for Youth and Children for the Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), told RFA that NUG is working to secure the boy’s release and said U.N. agencies have been informed about his abduction.
“As soon as we heard the news, we [began] working for the immediate release of the child,” he said. “To abduct a four-year-old boy because they cannot arrest the parents is shocking. It’s a violation of international law and is also a terrorist act. We have reported this to the U.N.”
The NUG was formed in the aftermath of the military coup by members of the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, as well as other civil society and pro-democracy activists, and says it represents the effort to return to democratic rule in the country.
According to the AAPP, junta troops have killed at least 1,733 civilians and arrested more than 10,000 others since February 2021 – mostly during peaceful anti-coup protests.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Nawar Nemeh.