Delivering for children in a time of crisis
Children in Myanmar urgently need support now
Children in Myanmar are experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Multiple challenges, including escalating conflict and violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-related disasters, rising poverty and a collapse in public services, have left an estimated 14.4 million people, including 5 million children, in need of humanitarian assistance.
More than 320,900 people, including women and children, are internally displaced due to clashes and insecurity in Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan states and in Magway, Sagaing and Tanintharyi regions. This is in addition to the 340,000 people living in protracted displacement before February 2021. With the conflict spreading to previously unaffected areas, it is estimated that 14 out of 15 states are contaminated with landmines, explosive remnants of war or improvised explosive devices.
These interrelated risks are threatening child survival, development and well-being across the country.
A generation in peril
Before the current crisis, about 34 per cent of the country’s 17 million children lived below the poverty line. A further 33 per cent of the population were living just above the poverty line. These people are now at great risk of falling back into poverty due to economic disruptions resulting from the current crisis. The effects of the third wave of COVID-19, combined with the economic and political situation following the military takeover in 2021, is projected to push almost half of the population into poverty by 2022.
Hard-won gains in the area of child rights are now being wiped out, threatening children’s lives, well-being and prosperity. Protecting and fulfilling the rights of children, as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is a State party, and the 2019 Myanmar Child Rights Law, should be a priority for everyone.
Urgent and sustained actions are needed to save an entire generation of children and young people from suffering the profound physical, psychological, educational and economic impacts of this crisis.
How UNICEF is responding
Since the current crisis began, UNICEF has been delivering urgent humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable children in the country through its extensive and diverse network of partners, including national and international non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and private sector partners.
- Reached close to 100,000 people with essential primary health care services
- supplied medication to treat pneumonia and diarrhoea for around 32,000 children
- provided vital nutrition supplements to almost 30,000 children
- distributed learning materials to almost 300,000 children
- provided emergency health services to more than 10,000 women and children living in the Hlaing Tharyar and Shwe Pyi Thar townships of Yangon.
- reached more than 562,000 people with critical water, sanitation and hygiene supplies (WASH)
- delivered clean drinking water to more than 227,000 conflict-affected people, including 50,000 people living in Hlaing Tharyar Township of Yangon
- provided Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) services to 30,000 children and more than 5,000 adults.
Keeping children out of extreme poverty
A UNICEF study carried out in 2020 estimated that COVID-19 could push an additional third of children in Myanmar into poverty, adding to the almost one third of children already living in poor households.
This significant increase in poverty will result in millions of children being cut off from basic services, depriving them of opportunities to fulfil their potential and putting them at risk of abuse and exploitation.
How UNICEF is responding
- UNICEF has established mechanisms to monitor how the crisis is impacting children, particularly those in families which have lost their income, whose caregivers are detained and those who are unable to access learning or health care. Data and evidence generated through this monitoring work will inform UNICEF efforts to protect children from the worst impacts of poverty.
- UNICEF is working in ethnic minority areas, IDP camps and other vulnerable areas to provide community-based services for nutrition and maternal and newborn child health through Ethnic Health Organizations (EHOs) and NGO partners.
- UNICEF, working with partners, has begun providing emergency health services, including tele-consultations, medicines and out-patient and hospital referrals to pregnant women and children living in the Hlaing Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar townships of Yangon. Since April 2021, more than 10,000 women and children (9,032 children under the age of 7 and 1,000 pregnant women) have received support.
- UNICEF has begun providing unconditional cash grants to families with children between the ages of 2 and 5, and those with children under the age of 5 with disabilities, to supplement family incomes and pay for access to key services. More than 5,300 pregnant women and children in Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon have received the support so far.
UNICEF is seeking to expand its provision of humanitarian cash transfers to a further 27,500 pregnant women and children; and to provide emergency health services to an additional 30,000 pregnant women and children living in peri-urban townships in Yangon.
Keeping children healthy
With health services seriously disrupted, almost 700,000 children are missing out on routine immunizations and almost 5 million children are missing out on vitamin A supplements, putting them at risk of infections and blindness. The spread of COVID-19 continues to affect millions of lives and, if the current disruption of health services continues, an estimated 25,000 additional child deaths may occur.
In addition, access to WASH services faces disruption due to the limited availability of supplies, disruption of transportation and banking restrictions. Across the country, more than 3 million children lack access to a safe water supply at home, threatening a large-scale outbreak of diarrhoea which will likely lead to a significant increase in mortality, particularly for children under the age of 5.
How UNICEF is responding
- UNICEF is working with partners to supply first aid kits and essential medicines for children in need of emergency care. Nearly 100,000 people have been reached with UNICEF-supported essential primary health care services – 15 per cent of these people were vulnerable pregnant women or children under the age of 5.
- While routine immunization has been suspended across most of the country, UNICEF has been able to continue to work with partners to carry out routine vaccination against measles, diphtheria and polio in some areas.
- UNICEF, in partnership with the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health, has piloted a website, Myanmar Clinical Guidance, providing clinical guidance for health workers on trauma and emergency paediatric care.
- UNICEF has supplied medication, including for treatment of pneumonia and diarrhoea, to cover around 32,000 children under the age of 5 in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Chin States. So far, more than 13,000 children under the age of 5 have received treatment for diarrhoea and pneumonia.
- UNICEF has reached more than 562,000 people with critical WASH supplies in 2021 in areas covered by the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) such as Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan; and in additional locations covered in the expanded HRP such as Chin, Sagaing, Kayin and other conflict-affected areas.
- UNICEF is reaching more than 227,000 conflict-affected people, people living in protracted camps for internally displaced, temporarily displaced populations and host communities with clean drinking water. This includes providing daily drinking water for 50,000 people in Hlaing Tharyar.
- In addition, through direct support to communities, UNICEF helped about 38,600 people (including more than 6,450 children) to access basic drinking water services and more than 10,300 people (including 3,400 children) to access basic sanitation services across the country.
- A campaign promoting handwashing through social media and radio reached 3.1 million people.
UNICEF needs additional funding of US$15 million to expand its maternal, newborn and child health and HIV programmes in 88 of the most vulnerable townships across Myanmar and funding of US$29 million to deliver lifesaving clean drinking water, safe sanitation including critical hygiene supply and services to over 1 million people.
Keeping children nourished
Before the current crisis, many children in Myanmar were already experiencing malnutrition, with almost 7 per cent experiencing wasting (being seriously underweight for their height) and 27 per cent experiencing stunting (being too short for their age). The crisis is making it increasingly difficult for families, in both urban and rural areas, to provide nutritious food for their children.5 Loss of access to WASH services, which can lead to diarrhoeal disease, exacerbates the situation, as does the disruption to the health system. The situation is particularly severe for 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 – could be devastating.
How UNICEF is responding
- UNICEF, with its partners, has distributed nearly 5,000 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, a life-saving treatment, to an estimated 20,490 children aged 6-59 months in Shan, Yangon, Bago and Kayin.
- UNICEF has provided multiple micronutrient supplementation to more than 147,400 children aged 6-59 months and 35,400 pregnant and lactating women in Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Yangon for prevention of micro-nutrient deficiency.
- UNICEF is working with local NGOs and EHOs to provide mothers with counselling and support on infant and young child feeding and reached more than 28,500 care-givers within 2021.
- UNICEF is also helping partners to scale up preventive and curative nutrition services.
UNICEF needs additional funding of US$23 million to provide life-saving supplies for vulnerable children and women such as screening and treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition, micronutrient supplementation, and maternal, infant and young child feeding counselling, delivered at both community and facility-level, to promote healthy behaviours and practices including exclusive breastfeeding.
Keeping children learning
Since 2020, the learning of almost 12 million children and young people has been disrupted by COVID-19. With limited safe and continuing learning opportunities, children are still being denied access to learning, with the result that many will never be able to catch up.
How UNICEF is responding
- UNICEF, together with partners, is distributing learning materials to almost 300,000 children across multiple states and regions. UNICEF has also been supporting ethnic basic education programmes to provide safe and continued learning to more than 180,000 children in ethnic minority areas with home-based learning materials.
- We are helping young children get ready 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 learning opportunities for primary and middle-school-age children. UNICEF has distributed essential learning package kits containing notebooks, pens and pencils to more than 60,000 children in Myanmar.
- We are working with national and international NGOs to deliver non-formal education for children who, even before the start of the pandemic, were not part of the formal education system.
UNICEF needs additional funding of US$22 million to provide learning opportunities, including early learning, and skills development programmes for the most disadvantaged children and adolescents.
Keeping children safe
Even before the current crisis, it was a major challenge to keep children safe from violence, abuse and exploitation in Myanmar. Since February 2021, at least 114 children have been killed as a result of shootings, airstrikes, indiscriminate artillery fire, use of explosives and being used as human shields. In the first 10 months of 2021, 102 women and children were among 217 people injured in 131 landmines or other explosions in:
- Shan State (34 per cent of the total casualties)
- Rakhine (22 per cent)
- Kachin (17 per cent)
- Bago, Chin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Magway, Sagaing and Tanintharyi (28 per cent).
Many more children and young people have been arbitrarily detained without access to legal counsel or forced to flee their houses and communities. On top of this, the daily exposure to scenes of violence will have a long-lasting impact on children’s mental and emotional well-being.
How UNICEF is responding
- UNICEF, working with legal aid providers, has supported children and young people in contact with the law to have access to justice by providing good quality legal aid services, including legal advice, legal consultation via hotline calls and legal representation. From 1 February to 31 December 2021, UNICEF has supported 938 children and 1037 young people.
- Working with partners, UNICEF has established a 24/7 nationwide toll-free justice hotline in June 2021 and supports a national MHPSS helpline operating in several languages. We have also introduced mobile psychosocial and counselling services for displaced children and their families.
- UNICEF and partners have reached close to 40,000 children and 11,000 adults in Kachin, Shan, central and northern Rakhine, Chin and Kayin states with MHPSS services in communities and in child-friendly spaces. We have also set up psychosocial peer-support groups for adolescents and young people.
- UNICEF supports referrals of child survivors of abuse and violence to mental health experts for individual counselling and therapy sessions. UNICEF partners reached nearly 12,000 girls, boys and women with risk mitigation, prevention and response services for gender-based violence.
- More than 120,000 people, including 57,600 children participated in child protection awareness sessions building their skills to identify and avoid the dangers of landmines and other unexploded ordinances.
- UNICEF is distributing child protection kits, adolescent kits and recreational items to displaced children. So far, close to 6,000 kits have been distributed nationally.
- UNICEF supports efforts to monitor and report grave child rights violations.
With additional funds, UNICEF will be able to expand the scope and scale of child protection interventions to prevent and respond to violence against children and grave violations across the country.
UNICEF is grateful for the generous support of partners including Australia, the European Union, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Germany, Global Partnership for Education, Japan, JICA, Korea, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, UK, USA and other UN agencies for UNICEF’s efforts to reach every child in Myanmar.
In all these efforts, UNICEF and its partners are determined not to fail the children of Myanmar at this critical time, when their lives, well-being and future are at stake.
We will always stand firmly on the side of the children.