A sign recently erected in Yangon aims to raise awareness of the illegal recruitment of underage boys to the Burmese state military. It asks whether this boy should be in school or the army.
Han Thar Nyein
Escape from training —
Zaw Min Paing poses with his army documentation. He was recruited at the age of 15 and spent more than four months in a training center before being released to his parents. He's now 19 and has given up hope of ever finishing school.
Road to Bogale, Myanmar —
Zaw Min Paing lives in Bogale, a small township in the Irrawaddy region, four hours south of Yangon. The road to the town runs through an area once rich in rice paddies. Houses like these appear sporadically along the road, with bridges allowing residents to cross water-filled ditches.
Locals use the river for transport —
Women in Bogale take pineapples from boats on the nearby river to street markets to sell. Bogale is virtually surrounded by water and was one of the townships hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Township hit by Cyclone Nargis —
The shell of a ferry is dumped on land in Bogale by fierce winds and waves whipped by Cyclone Nargis, in a photo dated May 18, 2008. Around 140,000 people were killed across Myanmar in the country's worst ever natural disaster.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Cyclone devastated the area —
More boats line the shores in Bogale. Cyclone Nargis wiped out farming land, livestock and the majority of houses when it swept through in 2008.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Nargis separated families —
Cyclone Nargis also separated families. Soe Paing said after the cyclone he sent some of his children to a monastery in Yangon. While there, his eldest son was lured into the army by recruiters. He was just 13.
A Burmese child soldier —
In this photo, Soe Paing's son Zaw Zaw Lin stands second from the right. He wears a Myanmar military uniform and holds a gun. Zaw Zaw Lin spent more than three years in the army before he was freed.
Recruiters target young boys —
This boy poses on barrels in Bogale township. Boys like him are vulnerable to recruiters who are either paid for signing up recruits, or can reduce the amount of time they have to serve, if they themselves are in the army.
Cyclone created many orphans —
This young girl is with her family on a boat in Bogale, but Cyclone Nargis created many other young orphans. Boys separated from their families are easy targets for army recruiters because few people will miss them.
A town of little wealth —
Bogale sits in Myanmar's Irrawaddy, a region once known as the world's "rice bowl." Decades of military rule destroyed the industry and now many locals eke out a living at the local markets or by selling food from family plots.
Many locals travel by boat —
The water is still a feature of life in Bogale, and locals use boats to move produce from one town to another.
School attendance rates are low —
Many children work in their family business' including tea houses and grocery stores. The country's education system was all but dismantled during decades of military rule.