Our next group of IWitness Global Citizens is travelling to Myanmar to visit some incredible projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Thanda Kyaw, who coordinates Save the Children’s project Helping to Reduce Children’s Vulnerability to Exploitation, explains the dangers of trafficking that vulnerable children are faced with.
Lay Nwe (not her real name), 16, was kidnapped from university by a fellow villager and taken far away to another region in Myanmar. Each day for nearly 10 months, Lay Nwe was forced to cook for the family, do the chores and work in the fields. She was beaten every day when he came home drunk, leaving scars on her arms and legs.
With the help of a community-based organisation set up with support from Save the Children, police eventually rescued Lay Nwe from the arms of her kidnapper. She is now safe at home with her family and looking to return to school as soon as possible. The police are still searching for her kidnapper, who escaped during the rescue mission.
This is an example of the child rights violations and exploitation that children in Myanmar face. Children—particularly ethnic minorities and the poor—are at risk of discrimination, forced migration, corporal punishment, trafficking and underage recruitment into armed forces. Other rights violations faced by children include lack of birth registration, child pornography and lack of a juvenile justice system.
Through the Helping to Reduce Children’s Vulnerability to Exploitation project supported by the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children works to protect children from exploitation through raising awareness and empowering communities to respond to these rights violations. In the first year of the project, 19 cases of trafficking was reported; in the second year, 33 cases were reported, demonstrating awareness in communities where we are working. In the third year, only six cases were reported, the result of a successful programme in preventing the trafficking of children.
Save the Children works with communities to ensure that children understand their rights, and adults in child-protection groups spread their knowledge of child rights to others within their communities. Through the programme, children and adults feel empowered to take action for children who have fallen victim to trafficking and abuse. Many of these programme areas have high rates of economic migration, where children are more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation. National and township mechanisms for protecting children against exploitation are also in their nascent stages in the country, which is why the protection of children in Myanmar is a top priority for Save the Children.
Save the Children in Myanmar is honoured and privileged to be able to undertake such an initiative to improve the quality of life for so many children over the past three years. These groups are set up within a self-sustainable system, which is expected to continue even as the project comes to a close. The creation of a safer environment for vulnerable children in Myanmar would not have been possible without the support offered by the IKEA Foundation.