Child protection

Keeping children safe from harm

UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Daniele Romeo

The challenge

All boys and girls have the right to be protected from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. Childhood only comes once, and what happens in early life can have enormous effects on a child’s future.

Children can experience serious harms at home, in their families, in schools, care and justice systems, workplaces and communities. Violence, abuse and neglect cut across age, sex, religion and class. Children may be affected whether their families are rich or poor. Still, inequality plays a role. Children who are poor and marginalized often struggle more to access services that can help prevent violations or provide remedies. Children living in conflict and emergency situations when normal social systems are under stress are also particularly vulnerable.

Violence, exploitation and abuse can affect a child’s physical and mental health in the short and longer terms.

Child vulnerability is closely linked with poverty and precarity. In Myanmar, close to half of all children aged 5 – 15 live in poor households, data shows. Almost 1.2 million children in this age group are working, often in hazardous conditions. Around 600,000 children live in institutions. 

In Myanmar, important gains have been made to improve children’s rights, yet serious concerns over child protection remain. Children who are working at a young age, are living in institutions, are in contact with the law, or who are caught up in conflict situations and natural disasters are especially in need of protection.

UNICEF Myanmar/2018/Kyaw Kyaw Winn

Almost one-fifth of the population in Myanmar are lifetime migrants. Children are often involved in migration – to follow family, take up employment or for education. In the process, they may become more vulnerable – in the worst cases, to trafficking, forced marriage or sex work.

Children who come into contact with the law often struggle to access their rights, whether as victims of crimes, due to having committed a crime, or when appearing as witnesses in a court case.

In addition, children continue to suffer amid ongoing conflict and inter-communal violence. Myanmar is one of the world’s most heavily infested country with land mines and Improvised Explosive Devices and almost half of all victims are children and women. The Myanmar Army (the Tatmadaw) and seven non-state actors have been listed by the UN Secretary-General for the recruitment and use of children. Protracted forced displacement in Kachin, Rakhine, and northern Shan States puts boys and girls at more risk of violence, neglect and abuse.

The solution

Child vulnerability cuts across all aspects of society and is therefore best addressed by building national child protection systems. 

In Myanmar, UNICEF works to build and strengthen the national child protection system so that it can protect all children, including the most vulnerable. This includes building the capacity of the Government as well as families, communities, and civil society to recognize, prevent and respond to cases of child rights violations. 

With UNICEF support, Myanmar took the important step in 2014 to invest in the National Social Protection Strategy. Social work is a key pillar of the strategy. 

UNICEF support helped expand the child protection case management system  to 49 townships in 2018, with more than 100 Government and NGO social work case managers trained and deployed.

Children in institutions

UNICEF is working with the Government to increase the available data on children in institutions, and to develop suitable policies. In 2017, UNICEF supported the development of Guidelines on Minimum Standards of Care and Protection for children in residential facilities. The first national foster care guidelines were also further developed, and a small pilot community-based foster care programme got underway in Mandalay and Yangon. 

Children in contact with the law

UNICEF works with the Government to ensure that child-sensitive policies and procedures as well as laws are practiced in the justice system. 

UNICEF Myanmar/2018/Nyan Zay Htet
The photograph of the child-friendly interviewing room at the Yangon western district court.

A total of 36 district court judges and 392 township police officers were trained in 2017 in how to respond to cases of child sexual abuse.

Children in conflict situations

UNICEF supports psycho-social assistance to children, including adolescents, caught up in conflict situations. In situations with limited access, UNICEF invests in building the capacity of the Government, NGOs, non-state actors and civil society to strengthen community-based monitoring of rights violations, and Child Protection Groups are being maintained in emergency-affected areas. Our mine risk education classes help keep children and communities safer. UNICEF continues to engage with all parties to ensure an end to the practice of child recruitment to armed forces. 

Children on the move

UNICEF’s long-standing collaboration with the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Department of the Myanmar Police Force, and the Department of Social Welfare, works to ensure the development of legislation and procedures on trafficking takes into account the rights and needs of child victims. 

Together with partners, UNICEF is supporting the development of appropriate legislation and procedures addressing the rights and needs of child victims of trafficking. In 2017 UNICEF supported communication and information materials aimed at preventing the trafficking of women and girls to China. In the same year, 130 victims of child trafficking were reintegrated into society.