Children’s Day Nothing to Celebrate in Burma

Children’s Day should be a time for smiles and celebrations. (Photo: Pat Brown/The Irrawaddy)

Children’s Day Nothing to Celebrate in Burma

By MIN LWIN Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today is Children’s Day in Burma, commemorating the birthday of Gen Aung San, the founder of the Burmese armed forces and hero of Burmese independence. However, the current military leaders in Burma would rather erase his name from the history books and forbid his birthday being celebrated altogether. “Gen Aung San’s story is genuine and honest,” said a former teacher from a primary school in Rangoon. “Something that is sorely absent among the current leaders.” She said the authorities even removed a poem that was written about Aung San from primary text books. “Aung San’s birthday was erased by the military government when they took power in 1988,” she added. “The name of Aung San always aroused excitement among young students, because teachers often taught stories about Aung San, his life and his sacrifice,” a Rangoon resident said.

But nowadays, teachers do not tell their students stories about Aung San for fear of reprisals. A civil servant from Rangoon said that Aung San’s name has all but been erased from Burmese life. He is barely mentioned in the state-run media or in secondary school textbooks. Burma’s rulers no longer say they are following Aung San’s path, and the once elaborate Martyrs’ Day celebrations have been drastically curtailed. According to a Rangoon resident, the reason the current military leaders want to keep Aung San at a distance is because of his daughter, Suu Kyi. Her presence in the country sits uncomfortably with the junta leaders. They regard her as their chief enemy. However, the Township Peace and Development Council in Rangoon has not given permission for the National League for Democracy to mark Burmese Children’s Day at their headquarters in Rangoon.

Whether celebrating Children’s Day is symbolic or not, the fact is that life expectancy and health conditions for Burmese children are increasingly worse since the military government took power in 1988. In 2007, Burma’s child mortality rate was the fourth highest in the world, eclipsed in Asia only by Afghanistan, according to a UNICEF report in January. According to Dr Osamu Kunii, a nutrition expert in Burma, between 100,000 to 150,000 children under five years of age die every year in Burma. That’s between 270 and 400 daily—and many are dying from preventable diseases.

Poverty, the economic crisis and instability in Burma drives more and more children in search of jobs. Some work from 5 a.m. until late at night in tea shops, bars and factories, often earning just 7,000 kyat ($ US5.72) per month. A resident in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy recently that the amount of street children in the former capital is now increasing. “Many children aged between 4 and 13 are begging on the streets. Some young children are carrying babies and begging. Some street children look for plastic in the rubbish bins and dumps and some go fishing every day for their daily survival,” she said. According to reports, sometimes street children who can’t produce ID are recruited into the Burmese army.


Economic Crisis Fueling Child Labor, Trafficking

Economic Crisis Fueling Child Labor, Trafficking
By Saw Yan Naing
December 18, 2007

The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving waves of Burmese children into hard labor, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups.

To mark the fourth anniversary of the international Day Against Child Trafficking on December 12, Mae Sot-based organization Burma Anti-Child Trafficking and the Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee organized a campaign in the Thai border town of Mae Sot against the trafficking of children and warning against the hardships of child labor.

Hard labor or kindergarten? Burmese children working on an underground plumbing system in Myawaddy. [Photo: goodgolly]

The two groups called for the protection of children’s rights in an event that was attended by some 2,000 children, parents and teachers.

Nang Muu, coordinator of the Burma ACT told The Irrawaddy: “The amount of Burmese children trafficked increases year after year. It is because of the economic crisis and the social problems that parents believe the word of traffickers.”

Often, parents of children and teenagers in Burma are persuaded by businessmen, relatives and friends to send their children abroad—usually to Thailand, China, India, Malaysia or Indonesia—to seek jobs with better salaries than exist in Burma, according to a member of Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, a Mae Sot-based migrant rights group.

Migrant “street children” in Thailand feature in no official statistics and NGOs can only hazard a guess at their true number—20,000 is a generally accepted figure.

A 2005 report released by Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University highlighted the vulnerability of migrant street kids. Children were found at shopping malls, weekend markets, train and bus stations, slum districts and bar areas, said the report.

Burma ACT has documented about 70 cases of child trafficking in 2007 and helped to send four trafficked children from Mae Sot back to their homes in cooperation with other rights groups, said Nang Muu.

Meanwhile, the results of child trafficking has had a huge impact on the education of many Burmese migrant children, forcing the children into hard labor in factories, sweat shops and even into the sex trade, according to Burmese migrant education groups.

Many victims under the age of 18 have become street beggars and sex workers instead of studying at school, said Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot.

Kids jostle for the job of carrying a stranger’s groceries in Mae Sot. [Photo: The Irrawaddy]

Paw Ray, who is also a director of Hsar Thu Lay School in Mae Sot— a learning centre for orphans, refugees and Burmese migrant children—said, “Children are our future. We should take care of them and protect them. We should let them express their feelings freely.”

Due to the difficulties of daily survival, some parents are forcing their children to work and some children are even sold by their parents, said Paw Ray.

Meanwhile, Penpisut Jaisanit, a Rajabhat University researcher who conducted a study around northern Thailand’s border with Burma’s Shan State, said most child laborers were ethnic children from Burma.  

“We found that the ethnic children were forced to beg by their parents, especially in Mae Sai. If they cannot collect enough money they are punished. Some girls under the age of 15 work in ‘entertainment centers’ and are sexually harassed at an age when they should be in school,” said Penpisut.

“We should not sit back and watch. Rights groups should cooperate and try to stamp out the trafficking of children and highlight the issue,” urged Paw Ray, adding: “The Burmese regime is responsible for this.”

However, Thailand’s Minister of Labor, Somsak Thepsutin, has indicated that it would be another ten years before the worst forms of child labor are eradicated in Thailand. 

Burmese child laborers were unearthed in six of Thailand’s provinces, from Chiang Rai in the north to Songkhla in the south, said researcher Penpisut Jaisanit.

Ne Oo, the secretary of the BMWEC, tells the parents that if their children don’t receive an education they will have hard lives: “It’s difficult for us to help those [migrant families] with their daily survival. We explain to them the comparison between the lives of educated people and uneducated people,” he said.

Ne Oo added that many children lack the interest in education and said he had noted some 40 Burmese street kids coming every day to collect plastic and rubbish under the bridge linking Burma’s Myawaddy town and Thailand’s Mae Sot. “They [migrant children] don’t get pocket money if they attend school. If they collect plastic and sell it, they earn at least 20 baht per day. So, they prefer to keep working as street children,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the amount of street children in the former capital is now increasing. “Many children aged between 4 and 13 are begging on the streets. Some young children are carrying babies and begging. Some street children look for plastic in the rubbish bins and dumps and some go fishing every day for their daily survival,” she said.

The Rangoon resident added: “If we are sitting and eating in a shop, they [child beggars] come to us and wait for money. They will wait until we have finished eating.”

Ne Oo concluded: “We try to explain to the parents of these children. We told them that the life of an uneducated person is hard. How can they expect their children to survive in the future?”