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While advances have been made in the areas of child protection, education, reducing the prevalence of HIV and vaccination against other diseases, Myanmar still labours under the effects not only of political and economic uncertainly exacerbated by international economic sanctions and growing income disparity, but also of the double disasters meted upon the country by the 2004 tsunami and, most recently, Cyclone Nargis. Water disasters such as those greatly increase the likelihood of the spread of water-bourne diseases and parasites, interrupt education and provision of basic services and increase the risk of malnutrition, particularly among children.
Issues facing children in Myanmar
- Infant mortality remains high in Myanmar, with 1 in 10 live births resulting in the death of the infant.
- Malnutrition is widespread among under-five-year-old children, with about one third of children severely or moderately stunted and underweight.
- Only 15 per cent of children are exclusively breastfed for the first three months. The practice of giving water to infants continues despite many advocacy campaigns.
- Malaria continues to be a national priority disease with more than a half million cases every year. Approximately half of malaria deaths in the South-east Asia region occur in Myanmar.
- More than 25 per cent of the population lacks access to safe drinking water. Arsenic contamination is a major concern.
- While Myanmar culture traditionally places a high value on education and net school enrolment rates are high at over 80% for both boys and girls, the drop-out rate is also high with less than 55% of those children actually completing the primary cycle.
- With few or no skills, increasing numbers of children work in the informal economy or in the streets where they are exposed to petty crime, risk of arrest, abuse and exploitation.
- Despite national legislation which prohibits the recruitment of children below 18 years of age into armed forces or groups, minors continue to be recruited in the armed forces of all parties including non-state groups.
Activities and results for children
- In support of efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, UNICEF was instrumental in expanding services to 54 townships and 22 clinics where pre-test counseling and anti-retroviral drugs became available to all babies born to HIV-positive mothers.
- Vitamin-A supplementation continued during vitamin-A days in March and during nutrition promotion week in September reaching around 6 million children aged between six months and five years in each round, covering approximately 96 per cent of the target population.
- To help combat the spread of Malaria, UNICEF distributed treated mosquito nets to 144,000 households.
- UNICEF was instrumental in the construction of 860 water systems which benefited 22,000 households and 36,000 school children in areas where groundwater is contaminated with arsenic.
- UNICEF assisted training of almost 11,000 teachers from 5,167 schools on child-centred teaching and learning methods. As part of school environment improvement 3,800 school latrines were constructed and roofing sheets and construction materials were provided to 450 schools in 27 townships.
- UNICEF provided support in the efforts to stop economic exploitation and trafficking of children. Over 300 children, female sex workers and other children vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and trafficking were provided with school, health and nutrition support through local non-governmental organizations in 11 townships. UNICEF provided support for the protection, reintegration and recovery of trafficking victims through anti-trafficking units in six border areas.
- UNICEF was among the first agencies on the ground after Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2008. UNICEF’s focus was on providing safe water and maintaining sanitary conditions so as to prevent the spread of water-bourne diseases and parasites that can lead quickly to malnutrition and death.