Myanmar is a country with 56.32 million people, 26% of which are children under 15 years old. It is a country with diverse ethnic groups with hundreds of different spoken languages and dialects. Poverty levels are at an estimated 26% of the population. Poverty is twice as high in rural areas where 70% of the population lives. The remote border areas, mainly populated by Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups, and areas emerging from conflict are particularly poor.
Child labour in Myanmar
Children working in agricultural sector and child soldiers have long existed in Myanmar, however, most people see no harm in children working. It is regarded as a good merit for children to help their parents due to the poverty. The disregard of importance of education is also a critical factor. Parents, and often times children themselves, choose to drop out of school and enter the workforce since it brings income to the family.
Agricultural sector is the industry on which our child labour programme focused on. Due to its emerging nature, advocacy with both community and government sector is critical. We worked in Taunggyi city in Shan State and Pyay city in Bago (west) Region. Our core focus was to raise awareness among both authorities and communities on child labour while providing services such as vocational training, health care and education support as well as legal aid to children at-risk or those already in the workforce.
Sexual exploitation of children in Myanmar
Myanmar has witnessed a rapid growth in number of tourists since 2012 when the country has been “opened”, after years under the military government. The government has concerns on the fast change happening and has launched a Tourism Master Plan which will be in place in 2020. However, the implementation will take time due to the large scale of the industry. The engagements as well as roles and responsibilities of each stakeholders; government, private sector, civil society, in preventing the sexual exploitation of children are not yet clearly defined and designed due to the new nature of the problem. To ensure the effective implementation of the country’s Tourism Master Plan, Terre des Hommes Netherlands supports an action-based and advocacy-based research as a strategy to raise awareness among all the stakeholders through dialogues between relevant government sectors and CSOs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children in the country.
Child trafficking and migration in Myanmar
Many Myanmarese at working age, along with their dependents, decide to migrate for economic purposes to other countries including neighboring Thailand and China. The ethnic difference between the ruling population and the minorities is another driving force for some of them to move out of the country.
Children as young as 14 can be trafficked to China for the sex industry or as brides for Chinese men. Many others are trafficked to Thailand to become beggars. Terre des Hommes Netherlands worked in the Yangon, Mandalay and Pegu districts and the Mon, Kachin, Shan, Rakhine States to promote safe migration and anti trafficking of children in Myanmar. Our interventions included awareness raising through theatre groups specifically for children but also for communities. We advocated at local and national level to reduce child trafficking and unsafe migration.