Zaw Min Paing squats in the dirt, his hands deftly cranking a spanner to unscrew the bolts on his motorbike. He works swiftly, efficiently and reasonably enthusiastically for someone who never wanted to be a mechanic.
He is 20 years old and would have finished school if not for the army recruiters who one day lured him away from his home with the promise of a way to earn money to support his struggling parents.
His father rides a trishaw, earning a couple of dollars by taking locals on short trips around town on his three-wheeled bike, while his mother gets up early to sell boiled beans to commuters.
"(The recruiters) tried to persuade me to join the army. At that time my family business was also very hard, so I am confused and I am following them," Zaw Min Paing said. He was 14.
Zaw Min Paing is one of an unknown number of Burmese children believed to be concealed within the ranks of Myanmar's military, known as the Tatmadaw.
Rights groups say many of the children have had their identification papers forged, and so far researchers have had limited access to verify their presence within units.
"I don't think anybody at this stage has got a clear number in their mind about how many underage recruits there are in the Tatmadaw, but the belief is it's considerably more than the number who have currently been discharged," said Steve Marshall, the International Labor Organization's Myanmar liaison officer.
Since the Myanmar government signed a U.N. pact in June 2012 to rid its forces of children, 176 have been freed.
The most recent release was in August 2013, when 68 children were allowed to leave, an occasion marked by a ceremony attended by senior military and social welfare officials.
It's likely many more remain in the military's ranks; some who are suffering in oppressed silence, others whose families are desperately seeking their release.
Recruiters target the vulnerable
CNN met Zaw Min Paing in Bogale, a small township four hours' drive south of Myanmar's former capital of Yangon, in the country's southern Irrawaddy region, an area once known as the "rice bowl" of the world.
Decades of military rule first destroyed the region's crops before Cyclone Nargis barreled through in May 2008, sweeping away homes, businesses and livelihoods. Around 140,000 people were killed across the country, many of those in the Irrawaddy region. Of all the townships, Bogale was one of the hardest hit.
As well as wiping out whole streets, the cyclone separated families, creating easy targets for recruiters who preyed on orphans and other vulnerable children whose identity papers had been washed away, Marshall said.
In recent years, the town has become less of a focus for recruiters who are active in a number of areas around the country, rights groups said, particularly in cities where they thrive on the anonymity of street children; the boys who won't be missed if they suddenly disappear.
'Please help me find my son'
Between nail-bitten fingers, Soe Paing, 39, holds a crumbled, laminated photo of his eldest son, Zaw Zaw Lin. The boy, then just 13 years old, stands with five other soldiers, all wearing Burmese military uniforms. He's carrying a gun.
"After Cyclone Nargis, I sent some of my children to the Rangoon (Yangon) monastery. After one year they live in the monastery, one disappeared, was missing," he said.
"I tried to contact the monastery -- they also don't know. Even I'm using the state newspaper -- I was advertising 'I've lost my son, please help me find my son, please contact me.' Nobody contacted me," he said.
It was two years before Soe Paing heard what happened to the eldest of his five children.
Law enforcement officers phoned him to say his son was in the army and allowed the two to speak. "My son told me 'I'm not happy I'm trying to escape from this army,'" Soe Paing said. The teenager said he had been recruited as he stood in the street, collecting food in an alms bowl from passersby.
Freed, but fears remain
Soe Paing contacted officials from the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, a local advocacy group working to free child soldiers. They lobbied for his son's release and 18 months later, he returned home.
Still just 16, Zaw Zaw Lin had served three-and-a-half years in the army. Now 19, his father says he's no longer the same boy. "Some of his attitudes and behaviors are very rude," he said.
Soe Paing not only fears for his son's future, but worries every time he steps out of the door.
"I'm worried that some military people will catch him again. Even though he's out of the military he doesn't have an official resign letter -- he's only got the protection letter," he said, referring to the letter provided by the ILO which warns that the holder is in fact a child whose potentially illegal recruitment is being reviewed.
Marshall said in many cases the letter, along with the submission of the child's case to the government, was enough for a boy to remain with his family before being a formal discharge.
"Unfortunately, in some instances the local personnel, not the central personnel, for a variety of reasons -- I think largely because they feel that they've got an obligation to uplift this deserter -- will arrest the boy and he will at a local level be charged through the military court process and convicted of desertion," he said.
"In that instance, it makes our job harder because in fact we not only have to get his discharge but we also have to get that conviction quashed and the boy then released from prison.
"Fortunately, in the main we are finding that those protection letters together with the submission of the complaint are providing a level of protection. Unfortunately it's not universal," he said.
December deadline looms
In June 2012, after five years of negotiation to end the use of children as state soldiers, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the United Nations.
The plan gave Myanmar's armed forces 18 months to take "measurable steps" to release and reintegrate children serving in the Tatmadaw and Border Guard Forces.
It pledged to immediately stop underage recruitment, strengthen vetting procedures and take action against perpetrators. It also said it would allow U.N. workers unimpeded access to military bases, prisons and other areas to check for the presence of children.
However, two months before the December deadline to rid its forces of children, Marshall said much more work needs to be done.
The deadline will need to be extended, he said: "You're not talking a matter of a few months, you're looking at a fairly extended additional period."
Signs of progress
In August, billboards started appearing around the country showing the image of a young Burmese boy. One side of his face is daubed with thanaka, a local version of sun cream locals make by grinding bark, the other side is smeared with camouflage. A slogan asks: Should he be sent to school or the army?
It's one of 66 posters erected outside recruitment centers and in areas considered prime targets for recruiters, including jetties, bus terminals and railway stations, according to UNICEF. In the next few months, a telephone hotline will be set up to allow anyone to report suspected cases of underage recruitment.
It's the first time such a sensitive issue has been so publicly addressed by the government, which is working with UNICEF to spread the message that young boys don't belong in the army.