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