Orphans, disability and COVID-19

The global pandemic robbing children of their vital need to play outside

Ye Mon
UNICEF
UNICEF Myanmar
20 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is robbing children of their vital need to play outside. Orphans and children with disability in Myanmar are facing particularly difficult circumstances.

Ma Chaw Su Khin is one of the 19 children at the Child Care Foundation in Myawaddy, Kayin State, and one and only disabled child under their care. In Kayin state, many people had abandoned their homes due to conflicts between armed groups and looked for better opportunities to cross borders after being displaced. Parents usually choose to send their children to orphanages believing they will have better access to food, shelter and education.

At the Child Care Foundation, the children receive three meals a day of rice, meat or fish, and vegetables, along with afternoon snacks. Foundation founder Daw Khin Htar says the organization uses up over seven kilograms of rice per day and that prices have tended to go up little by little during the pandemic. As well as buying food for the children, the foundation pays about 10 lakhs Myanmar kyats (approx. US$700) per month for staff salary and office space utilities.  Child Care Foundation’s expenses are covered by income received from Daw Khin Htar’s daughter’s furniture shop in Myawaddy.

“Thankfully, my daughter’s business is not falling as much as we had expected. We have also received more donations than before COVID-19, which I think is surprising. For now, we do not have to worry too much about the children. We are still OK, now,” explains Daw Khin Htar.

15 out of 19 children at the foundation, including Ma Chaw Su Khin are attending school. However, when Myanmar’s schools reopen this month, Daw Khin Htar is a bit concerned that they will then face challenges, to meet the needs for school supplies, including uniforms, notebooks, backpacks, lunchboxes and water bottles. 

“All the children are very diligent, even little Chaw Su Khin who is now in Grade 2. She is smart, a good listener and tries harder at school than other children. She understands what is going on with this pandemic too,” says Daw Khin Htar. However, the 12-year-old Chaw Su Khin still faces difficulties in trying to attend higher level of education and has faced challenges to express her anxiety or worries like other children. 

To protect the children from being exposed to the Coronavirus, they are no longer allowed outside the office compound to mingle and play with other children in the town, as they used to do in the past.  For Chaw Su Khin, even before the pandemic, it has been difficult for her to mingle and play with others as she is physically different from them.  However, Chaw Su Khin remains lucky that other children do not bully her for her physical differences, mainly because of the education and knowledge they are being provided with.

 “I am trying to fulfil the children’s needs and keep them happy by buying toys for them, but we can’t let them go outside of our space and sight. All the children know that for now they can only play in the yard here. They also understand that they have to wash their hands frequently to prevent infection,” says Daw Khin Htar. However, we cannot afford to provide relevant facilities for the children with disabilities at the centre or at her school. Daw Khin Htar is aware that the lack of stimulation can have greater affects towards children with disabilities than it does to other children.

UNICEF has supported the Government of Myanmar in developing the by-laws on the rights of the persons with disabilities in 2016-2017. The law enables rights of the children with disabilities on many areas including the inclusive education, disability registration and certification of these children. The Trainings on the Assessment Tools for children with disabilities in 4 pilot areas were almost completed and implementation has been delayed due to the on-set of COVID-19.  The certification and registration procedures were then rapidly reviewed; and the process is planned to restart within the month of August 2020, in Kayin State (one of the pilot areas) by using the remote-assessment methodology.  If successful, this model is to be replicable to all areas of Myanmar and benefit children like Chaw Su Khin.