Delivering for children in a time of crisis
Children in Myanmar urgently need support now
The crisis following the military takeover on 1 February this year is having a catastrophic toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of children in Myanmar. Children are being killed, wounded, detained and exposed to tear gas and stun grenades and are witnessing terrifying scenes of violence. In some areas, thousands of people have been displaced, cutting children off from their relatives, friends, communities and their traditional means of support.
Even before the current crisis, children in Myanmar were experiencing huge challenges due to the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in several parts of the country. Over one million people, including an estimated 450,000 children, were already affected by Myanmar’s conflict and vulnerable to gender-based violence, exploitation, abuse, detention, family separation, displacement and trafficking, and about 34 per cent of the country’s 17 million children lived below the poverty line. In addition, almost 33 per cent of the population living just above the poverty line were in a state of extreme vulnerability and are now at great risk of falling back into poverty due to economic disruptions resulting from the current crisis.
A generation in peril
The compounding impacts of the current crisis threaten the lives and wellbeing of millions of children, putting an entire generation in peril. The ongoing loss of access to key services, combined with economic contraction, will push many more into poverty, potentially creating an entire generation of children and young people who will suffer profound physical, psychological, educational and economic impacts from this crisis and be denied a healthy, prosperous future.
Hard-won gains in the area of child rights are now being wiped out, threatening children’s lives, wellbeing and prosperity. This represents a serious failure by duty bearers to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of children, as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Myanmar is a State Party, and the Myanmar Child Rights Law, issued in 2019.
UNICEF is committed to children in Myanmar, to upholding children’s rights and to providing the services critical for children’s survival and wellbeing. UNICEF is adapting the way it works and taking advantage of its extensive and diverse network of partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and private sector partners, striving to ensure continuity of access to critical services at scale.
Drawing on its 70 years of experience in Myanmar, delivering for children including in times of conflict and crisis, UNICEF is able to continue to reach children in need even in the most challenging situations. UNICEF brings strong capacity to mobilize and deliver at scale, coordinating the efforts of multiple partners to achieve coherent approaches that span across the country. In addition to its coordinating role, UNICEF brings strong capacities in direct implementation of programming and efficient and cost-effective procurement and transport of commodities and supply.
As always, UNICEF’s focus is particularly on reaching the most vulnerable children including the poorest children, children with disabilities, children living in camps for displaced people, migrant and refugee children and those in hard-to-reach areas, now including areas of key cities, including Yangon and Mandalay, which are under martial law.
Keeping children safe
Before the current crisis, it was already a major challenge to keep children safe from violence, abuse and exploitation in Myanmar. Between January and September 2020, 49 children were killed and 134 maimed as a direct result of conflict. During the current crisis, many more children have been killed, seriously injured, arbitrarily detained without access to legal counsel or forced to flee their houses and communities. On top of the loss of innocent lives, the daily exposure to scenes of horrific violence will have long-lasting impacts on children’s mental and emotional well-being.
How UNICEF is responding:
- Working with legal aid providers, UNICEF supports children and young people’s access to justice across the country. UNICEF has supported children and young people in contact with the law to access quality legal aid, including legal advice, legal consultation, and legal representation. Since February 1, UNICEF has supported 62 children and 176 young people to access quality legal aid.
- Working with partners, UNICEF is establishing a nationwide toll-free justice hotline, expanding on already existing helpline numbers operated by several partners to ensure children and young people have timely access to quality legal advice.
- We are also producing informational materials for children and young people to know about their rights when dealing with the law enforcement and how to access free legal assistance in both English and Myanmar languages. Materials are being disseminated widely in collaboration with Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) members.
- UNICEF is working with national organizations to support a nationwide mental health and psychosocial support helpline, ensuring children are able to access counselling and mental health support in several local languages. UNICEF also support referrals of child survivors of abuse and violence to mental health experts for individual counselling and therapy sessions. UNICEF is currently working on setting up psychosocial peer-support groups for adolescents and young people.
- UNICEF is supporting efforts to monitor and report grave child rights violations and reporting these violations to United Nations and other bodies that pursue justice
Keeping children out of extreme poverty
A UNICEF study carried out before the military takeover estimated that COVID-19 could push a further one third of children into poverty on top of the almost one third of children already living in poor households. The current crisis has the potential to force millions more children into poverty, denying them the ability to access basic services, depriving them of opportunities to fulfil their potential, and putting them at even greater risk of abuse and exploitation.
How UNICEF is responding:
- UNICEF has established mechanisms to monitor how the current crisis is impacting children, particularly children in families which have lost their income, whose caregivers are detained and those who are unable to access learning or healthcare. Data and evidence generated through this monitoring work will inform UNICEF’s efforts to protect children from the worst impacts of poverty.
- UNICEF is coordinating with relevant partners to design, establish and roll out a national child cash grant scheme, through which families with children between the ages of 2-5 and children aged under 5 with disabilities will receive unconditional cash grants, which can be used to supplement family incomes and pay for access to key services.
- UNICEF is working with Common Health, a private company, to roll out mobile-based health micro-insurance, ensuring that all children in Myanmar under the age of 6 have are covered by health insurance and are able to access health care.
Keeping children learning
COVID-19 had already disrupted the learning of almost 12 million children and young people. With the ongoing closure of schools due to COVID-19 preventive measures, children are still being denied access to learning, destroying their aspirations and hopes for a better future. Many will never be able to catch up or get another chance.
How UNICEF is responding:
- UNICEF is working with national and international NGOs to scale up home-based learning using high quality educational materials.
- We are supporting young children’s readiness for learning and language development by training civil society organization partners, including ethnic language teachers, and developing and printing storybooks in ethnic languages.
- UNICEF is working with national and international NGOs to provide alternative learning opportunities for primary and middle-school-age children. Support includes providing learning materials and assisting children with learning and language development, while also offering mental health and psychosocial support.
- We are working with national and international NGOs to deliver non-formal education for children who were out of the formal education system even prior to the COVID pandemic.
Keeping children healthy
Since the military takeover, health workers have experienced threats, intimidation and violence, putting them in danger and further increasing their reluctance to provide services. With health services seriously disrupted, children are missing out: almost 1 million children are missing out on routine immunization; almost 5 million children are missing out on vitamin A supplementation, putting them at risk of infections and blindness. There is a risk that the spread of COVID-19 will accelerate.
In addition, access to water, sanitation and hygiene services are facing disruptions due to limited availability of supplies, disruption of transportation and banking channels. Across the country, more than three million children lack access to a safe water supply at home, threatening a large-scale outbreak of diarrhoea which could be fatal, particularly for children under the age of 5.
How UNICEF is responding:
- UNICEF is working with partners to support emergency care through supply of first aid kits and essential medicines for children most in need of medical care
- While routine immunization has been suspended in the largest part of the country, in Non-Government Controlled areas UNICEF is working with partners to carry out routine vaccinations to prevent vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, such as measles, diphtheria and polio.
- We are developing smartphone apps to train health workers on provision of trauma and emergency care for women and children.
- UNICEF is providing pregnant women, new mothers, newborns, children and adolescents with healthcare services and procuring essential medicines and supplies to save lives and treat diseases.
- We are working with partners and the private sector to coordinate and explore options for delivery of clean drinking water to vulnerable households in urban areas.
- We are also coordinating with communities in Shan and Magway to deliver supplies for community managed water supply.
Keeping children nourished
Before the current crisis, many children in Myanmar were already experiencing malnutrition, with almost 30 per cent pre-school children experiencing stunting (being too short for their age), 7 percent of pre-school children (In Rakhine 14 percent) experiencing wasting (being seriously low for their height) and 57 percent pregnant women experiencing anaemia. Loss of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, which can lead to diarrhoeal disease, will further exacerbate the situation. The situation is particularly severe for young children under the age of 2, who are at risk of death or irreversible physical and cognitive delays if they suffer undernutrition for an extended period. The impacts – for the children, their families, communities and the country as a whole – may be devastating.
How UNICEF is responding:
In Kachin, Rakhine and northern Shan states,
- UNICEF is working with partners to screen and treat children with severe acute malnutrition.
- We are providing lifesaving micro-nutrient supplements to children and pregnant women.
- UNICEF is working with local NGOs to provide mothers advice on infant and young child feeding.
In all these efforts, UNICEF and its partners are determined not to let down the children of Myanmar at this critical time, when their lives, wellbeing and future are at stake.
We will always stand firmly on the side of the children.