Burmese kids.

Children of Myanmar.

MYANMARS CHILDREN

At the beginning of the 1960s, Myanmar was one of the most prosperous nations in southern Asia.  Since 1962, however, it has been governed by a military junta, and has in the process become one of the poorest countries in the world. Not surprisingly, very little respect is shown for children’s rights.

EDUCATION

School is free and obligatory up to the age of 10 which is well short of the international average. It is estimated that 20% of Myanmar’s children have no schooling. The government provides no real funds for education and parents are not always able to finance their children’s studies.

CHILD LABOUR

Children from poor families are the principal victims of this problematic. In effect, many of them are obliged to find work in order to support the needs of their families. Often they are forced to work in mines, on construction sites, or as domestic help. These forms of work are dangerous for their health and has a negative effect on both their physical and psychological development.

CHILD SOLDIERS

The minimum age for enrolment in the army is 18, nevertheless children as young as 14 are often kidnapped and forced to fight against ethnic rebels. These children pass their days in training camps where conditions are absolutely awful, violence, filth, lack of food, etc. Many of them desert the camps but they do so at their own peril.

IDENTITY

65 % of births are not officially reported in Myanmar.  Rural regions are particularly affected by this problem, since midwives register births in an informal manner. Very few births are reported to the proper authorities; consequently, many children do not exist in the eyes of society.

Long hours, eager wages, Child labor continues in Myanmar.

Every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Soe Min Lwin takes orders, serves food and washes dishes at a tea shop in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. Every night, he climbs onto a wooden table and falls asleep. He’s 12, and by earning just over a dollar a day, he is his family’s main breadwinner.

“When I don’t work,” he said softly, “sometimes [my family] is all right, but sometimes they’re not. It depends on whether my stepfather can find work. He doesn't have a steady job.”

Soe Min Lwin’s boss, shop owner Ko Thar Thint, lets him out of work six hours a week to attend classes held by the Myanmar Mobile Education Project. But he insists that hiring children like Soe Min Lwin is not unfair labor.

“We don’t torture these kids or force them to work,” he said. “We take them in and give them work so they can support their families. And here, they have a place to live and eat. If we didn’t take them in, they might end up in a worse place.”

Ko Thar Thint has a 9-year-old son, but when asked if he would let him leave school at age 12 and go to work too, he said no. “These kids have to work because their families don’t have enough money,” he said, referring to the five children who work for him. “My son is luckier than [they are], so he doesn’t need to work yet.”

Children have long been pillars of Myanmar’s economy, with many working as housecleaners, factory hands and shop assistants. But their role has come under increasing international scrutiny as the country opens up after five decades of military dictatorship.

 Since Myanmar began major economic and political reforms in 2011, more and more children have moved from the country’s rural areas to cities, he said. “A lot of shops and restaurants opened up in the cities, and they need a cheap and reliable labor force,” he said. “And a lot more people … have more disposable income, so they demand more services, which also requires more labor.”

Child labour in Myanmar

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