RANGOON—A group of Burmese youngsters have urged the country’s prospective legislators to address the concerns of children as they campaign for the November elections.
Fifty children between the ages of 12 and 18 from across the country presented their concerns on issues of underage labor, drugs, education, health and child rights at a forum held in Rangoon’s Parkroyal Hotel on Friday. Organized by a consortium of over 50 NGOs and civil society organizations, in partnership with the Union Election Commission (UEC) and UNICEF, the forum was attended by around 50 party representatives and candidates in the upcoming poll from the country’s political parties.
Kaung Si Thu, a teen from Rangoon’s Shwepyithar Township,told the forum that action needed to be taken to stop children being sent into low-wage employment to support the livelihoods of low-income families.
“They can’t go to school. They don’t have enough rest time in their jobs and they don’t get enough protections,” he said.
Khin Cho Lat, from Hlaing Tharyar Township in Rangoon’s outer-west, called for an effective inspection regime to prevent forced child labor and to guarantee fair salaries and conditions for the underage workforce.
“Though there are some inspections now, child laborers were hidden and forced to lie by their employers, because inspections are always announced in advance,” she told participants.
Zin Min Thu, 17, added there was a lack of effective enforcement to prevent child abuse.
“If children are seriously beaten, the punishment is a six monthprison term and a fine of 1000 kyats (US$0.78), and if children are forced to beg for money on the streets, the punishment for those responsible is a two year prison term and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($7.80),” he said. “But forced child labor and child abuse is still common. Most children don’t even know that they have rights that are being abused.”
Parliamentary candidates present on Friday pledged to raise awareness on issues facing the nation’s youth, to incorporate childrens’ rights policies into their party platforms and campaigns, and to push for effective law reform.
“They have made points we often forget, and I think most politicians are forgetting them,” said Yee Yee Aung, campaign manager for the newly-formed Union Farmer Force Party. “Our party will include their requests in our campaign platform.”
Myo Myint Htun, Plan International’s program manager for child rights and protection, told The Irrawaddy that the participating NGOs and civil society groups will aim to raise awareness of issues facing Burma’s youth among political parties in the coming months.
A press release issued by UNICEF and the NGO Child Rights Working Group estimated that over 4.4 million children in Burma between the ages of 5 and 18 do not attend school, while 10 million children live in poverty.
“The parties need to consider child rights in their campaign programs. I am sure that the parties which act for the benefit of childrenwill win in the election,” Aung Kyaw Moe, field operations director of Save the Children, told Friday’s forum.