Myanmar Facing ‘Lost Generation’ of Children Under Military Rule

By The Irrawaddy 20 February 2023

Five million children in Myanmar need humanitarian assistance amid armed conflicts across the country, according to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on Jan. 30.

Three out of 10 children under 5 in Myanmar are stunted due to a lack of proper nutrition. This affects not only their physical growth but also their overall health and future. Moreover, 300,000 children in Myanmar are at risk of preventable diseases due to lack of vaccination, added the UN agency.

Over 1.5 million in Myanmar people have been displaced, with children forced to flee their homes and communities.

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Minister of Women, Youths and Children Affairs in the parallel National Unity Government, recently talked to The Irrawaddy about the plight of children displaced by fighting.

What kind of help do the five million children need in Myanmar? Health, education or nutrition, what is the priority?

Myanmar is already a poor country with lots of needs. And the government can’t deliver public services in full. The situation has become worse since (the coup in) February 2021, especially for children. According to the UN report, 5 million children are in dire need of support.

They are malnourished and they need to be vaccinated, and they also need schooling. And their lives are especially at risk because of junta raids.

According to the records of our ministry, over 300 children (under 18s) have been arrested. Nineteen children have been jailed, and 289 others were killed by the military. Therefore, the security of children and their rights are the most important requirement.

What does the future hold for children in a country where armed conflicts are escalating?

Their morale will be negatively affected, and so will their health. And their schooling will also be hampered. These are the very children who will lead the country one day. And it will be difficult for them to lead the country if they grow up deprived. [In this case,] the country can’t have a good future.

What must be done for children to get the assistance they need?

On my trips to Karen and Karenni (Kayah) states), I discovered many children in displacement camps. Civilian leaders open schools and provide food for them. But it is not enough. And there have been child casualties every day due to the regime’s deliberate attacks on displacement camps.

So we must stop the junta’s brutality if we are to protect the children. The first thing we must do is stop it from targeting schools and hospitals so as to provide mental security for children. Then we must provide them with access to health care services and education and also carry out programs for their development and leadership.

What will happen to them if they don’t get the assistance in time?

The international community should not ignore this problem. They must help to make sure assistance reaches those children. If it does not, millions of children are at risk of losing their lives. Even if they survive, they will be both mentally and physically deprived and the future of the country will not be good.