The changing political and social context within Myanmar has created many opportunities to improve the protection of children from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Investing resources in building the systems needed to prevent and respond to child protection issues is critical at this point in time. Whilst important gains have been made and the government of Myanmar has shown strong commitment to ensuring the rights of children are realized, there are still serious protection concerns remaining, including the numbers of children in institutional care, treatment of children in contact with the law, prevalence of child labour, and increasing rates of trafficking, and ongoing conflict and communal violence across the country.
Increasing numbers of children are living in institutional care in Myanmar. UNICEF and the Department of Social Welfare released a report in 2011 on the ‘Situation of Children in Residential Care Facilities in Myanmar’ [Link to report] that indicated 73% of children in institutions had one or both parents alive, and 50% were brought to an institution by parents or relatives. Formal alternatives to institutional care do not currently exist in Myanmar. Adoption is rarely practiced and is poorly regulated. Absence of options, combined with a lack of family support at community level, often leads to children being unnecessarily placed in institutional care.
A child may come into contact with the law due to the crimes they have committed, or may have contact with police and courts as victims of crimes. Some children appear in court as witnesses/parties in cases where guardianship and custody matters are resolved. Lack of availability of adequately trained professionals in the justice sector and lack of access to legal representation are some of the most prominent problems in the justice system that may lead to violation of children’s rights at various stages of justice proceedings, inadequate attention to the best interest principle and unfavorable outcomes for children.
Child labour is highly prominent and visible in Myanmar across both rural and urban settings. Although comprehensive data on child labour is not available, there is a shared understanding by the Government and stakeholders that the issue is problematic. Some children in Myanmar are affected by activities that constitute the worst forms of child labour, such as recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
Children continue to suffer from ongoing conflict and inter-communal violence in the country. The Myanmar national army (the Tatmadaw) and seven non-State actors have been listed by the UN Secretary-General for the systematic recruitment and use of children. UNICEF is engaging these groups to ensure they end this practice. Other ‘Grave Violations’ are also committed against children such as abductions, the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence, and attacks on schools and hospitals.
The protracted situation of forced displacement in Rakhine and Kachin/Northern Shan States has placed boys and girls at disproportionate risk of violence, neglect and abuse, including sexual exploitation, trafficking, and early marriage. Adolescents represent a significant proportion of the displaced populations. They have been underserved in the humanitarian response and have limited access to formal education or livelihood opportunities.
Myanmar is also prone to natural disaster, such as flooding, landslides and earthquakes, which places children at high risk. Children in emergency areas are deprived of consistent access to basic services, including their right to health, education, and life-sustaining necessities such as adequate and nutritious food, clean water, and hygienic sanitation facilities.
Myanmar is currently undergoing significant legislative reform including a review of the existing Child Law (1993) which covers a range of children’s rights. Despite these reforms, there is no national policy on child protection, and resources for prevention and response to violence against children are minimal. There is also a lack of verifiable data on children protection issues in Myanmar as the reporting of cases remains low due to the sensitive nature of the topic.