Crying Children of Myanmar

‘Child labour is work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work’. [International Labour Organization – http://www.ilo.org/ipec/facts/lang–en/index.htm].

There are 1.9 billion children representing the world population [UN data]. Amongst these numbers, 168 million children are imprisoned by child labour, which is almost 11% of the total child population. 68 million female and 100 million male children engage with hazardous work. [World report on child labour 2015: Paving the way to decent work for young people / International Labour Office. Geneva: ILO, 2015].

Child labour has turned into slavery today in many countries of the world, with developing and underdeveloped countries being on the lead. Child labour happens in different forms, in different fields, and to different extents. Children work in open fields, and closed industries. Children work on the streets and also inside houses as domestic helpers.

Child labour is an epidemic in Myanmar which harms thousands of innocent young children who are forced by different groups to involve in both non-harmful and harmful forms of work. Confronting this issue is a challenge to Myanmar’s government today.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population of Myanmar, 1.3 million child labourers are there, though the real number is a lot higher. The legal working age in the country being 14 for general labour [Article 14 of the Shops and Establishments Act of Myanmar], and 18 for hazardous labour [Section 65(a) of the Child Law]. This makes Myanmar the 7th worst country for child labour [Risk Analysis of Verisk Maplecroft – https://maplecroft.com/]. United Nations in 2014 census data analyzed that 1 in 4 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are involved in labour in Myanmar.

In 2013, Myanmar signed the ILO Convention 182 ‘Worst Forms of Child Labor’. And even though law in Myanmar does not permit excess hours of work for children, the children working in the city of Yangon alone work extra hours a day due to the work forced on them. The children who work in a huge industrial zone are from the ages of 13 and 15; and those who are between 16 – 17 work forty hours a week [ILO]. Restaurants and tea shops have nearly 10,000 children employed by them [Department of Labour]; and many more thousands are invisible servants behind rough closed door.

Majority of the children who involve in this slavery of labour are poor. Natural disasters, ethnic insurgencies and conflicts have made many from the rural Myanmar poor and deprived of their fundamental rights and basic needs.

A group of young boys [names withheld] working in Yangon said “We are always treated badly; they abuse us all the time; cursing and shouting is all we get in return of our hard work; we don’t have resting time and sometimes we are weak with hunger and thirst.”

With a population of 54.2 million, and 70% of them living in the rural, the country is ranked on the Human Development Index as 150 among the 187 world countries [UN Population Data]. The poverty striking 26% of the population, the rural poverty is 70% [UNDP]. Agriculture being the largest dependable source of income, the country’s vulnerability towards natural disasters affects the lives of the inhabitants and their economy. Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008. The displacement due to natural disasters of floods and cyclones from 2008 – 2013, made Myanmar 10th worldwide in numbers, when 2.67 million became displaced [IDMC, 2014; OCHA 2014]. Another form of disaster on Myanmar people is the protracted armed conflict since the year 1962. Though the conflict ended in 2012, frequent clashes have taken place disturbing the innocent lives of adults and children. According to IDMC, the numbers of internally displaced people due to conflict were 662,400 [IDMC, 2015].

The issue of child labour in Myanmar is due to poverty which is caused by varied reasons, with natural disasters and conflict being the primary. When parents become unemployed due to these factors, they either send their young ones to work, or the youngsters are forced to be doing a job, in order to find food. Many of the children in the labour force are from single headed household families, ethnic minorities, and from the rural areas.

“I have to start work early every day. I am tired at nights when I climb onto a wood bench to sleep. If I don’t work, my family is not happy. Only when my father finds work, I can stop”, laments a little boy of 11. “My sister too works in a house, she is 13”, he added.

Currently ILO is engaged with a four year project that started in 2013 to eliminate child labour in Myanmar. This is not a problem that could be solved overnight. The child labour force cannot be sent home at once. The country has to bring social protection systems and strong laws that will prevent and protect children from engaging in labour. If education is made compulsory, the children will have no way to be employed for long hours, or in risk situations.

As said by the UNICEF, ‘violence against children takes many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and may involve neglect or deprivation. Violence occurs in many settings, including the home, school, community and over the Internet. Similarly, a wide range of perpetrators commit violence against children, such as family members, intimate partners, teachers, neighbours, strangers and other children. Such violence not only inflicts harm, pain and humiliation on children; it also kills. All children have the right to protection from violence, regardless of the nature or severity of the act and all forms of violence can cause harm to children, reduce their sense of self-worth, affront their dignity and hinder their development.’

“There is no reason, there is no excuse; child labour is child abuse”  [a child labour slogan taken from childhood diaries]

Jasmin Noung | Myanmar

Jasmine Noung, a social activist and a supporter of children’s rights plays a significant role in fighting against child labour in her country. She together with a team of women has strove to free and support children who have been caught in slavery, violence and torture.