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, is here to explain some of the hurdles Myanmar children have to overcome.
One-third of Myanmar’s 53 million people live in extreme poverty. The country possesses vast natural resources but is ranked only 149 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. As the country opens up to the world, it continues to face a host of social and economic challenges, including poverty, a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and strained health and education systems.
Children in Myanmar face significant dangers. Minority children and youth are especially vulnerable to discrimination, forced migration, trafficking and underage recruitment into the armed forces. Children are targeted because they are easily manipulated, cheap, easier to control (and abuse), and because they look to adults to protect them. Children have told us that abuse, discrimination and lack of inclusive opportunities for disabled children are all key issues. Mechanisms for protecting children against exploitation are in their early stages, and that is why child protection is a top priority for Save the Children.
We have tackled many of these issues by helping communities understand the long-term detrimental effect that abuse, exploitation and neglect can have on children.
Save the Children’s project Helping to Reduce Children’s Vulnerability to Exploitation, implemented with support from the IKEA Foundation for three years, is helping children and adults in three Myanmar townships better protect those around them.
Over the course of the project, there has been a 172% rise in the number of sexual abuse cases reported in our project areas, highlighting increased awareness of the crime. To prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, we have formed and trained child-protection groups made up of community members. These groups have run sessions with mothers and children on how to stay safe, advocated that law enforcement officers control sales of pornographic DVDs, and lobbied parents to stop children’s access to porn sites on mobile phones and to increase privacy at home. And, thanks to our working closely with the local justice system, officers are getting better at managing children’s cases.
Plus, over 700 children without birth registration have now received the right documentation, so their identities are recognised and protected. Through our school programmes, we have seen the number of complaints about corporal punishment drop by one-third. To ensure that children and their communities are aware of underage recruitment of child soldiers and how to report it, we have conducted 200 information sessions, resulting in 20 suspected cases being reported.
Save the Children in Myanmar is honoured and privileged to undertake such a complex initiative to improve the quality of life for so many children. It’s a noble task, one that we hope to achieve step by step every day. None of it, however, would have been possible without the huge support and resources that the IKEA Foundation have offered to us and, in the end, to the children.