RANGOON — More than 200 civil society organizations sent an open letter to Burma’s President Thein Sein on Thursday, calling on the government to promote child rights and draw up effective laws to protect the country’s youth from abuses.
Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, said the letter was sent to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), with 234 civil society organizations both foreign and local signing on.
“Burma was one of the countries that signed the CRC but the government’s performance on child rights has been weak. So we, civil society, want to remind the government about their promises regarding the convention,” he said.
In the letter, the civil society groups said child labor issues, sexual violence, human trafficking and humanitarian conditions at camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the most acute problems facing children in Burma.
“We have noticed that the sexual violence against children is severely rising,” said the civil society coalition, listing 11 requests in the letter including more government spending on education, health care and social welfare for children; legislative protections for violence against children including child soldiers; and encouraging a more inclusive education for all, including those with disabilities, as part of an overall effort to promote child rights.
“Some disagree about prioritizing child rights, but child rights abuses are problems that we need to solve immediately,” Aung Myo Min said.
Burma signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. While some progress has been made under the reformist government that took power in 2011, child soldiers remain within the ranks of the military and child laborers are still a common sight on the streets of Rangoon and among the country’s largely agrarian populations.
In Rangoon and Mandalay, celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and World Children’s Day were held.
Around 20 civil society organizations in Rangoon held an event to mark World Children’s Day at the National Races Village on Thursday. More than 500 children joined the event, which included discussions by children on child rights issues, as well as youth performances and games.
“We reduced the adults’ participation in today’s event. We mainly targeted children’s participation and arranged things based on the children’s decisions,” said Aung Myo Min.
He said the aim of the celebration was to raise awareness among parents and the broader public about child rights, and to encourage children to express their feelings. Organizers also hoped the event would encourage greater government attention to child rights issues.
In Mandalay, more than 1,000 children celebrated four days earlier on Sunday.
“We targeted street children, orphans, and children from philanthropic and monastic schools and the disabled, because they face discrimination more than other children and we wanted them to be happy at the event,” said Naing Naing from the Mandalay branch of Equality Myanmar.
He added that the government should implement the commitments laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as soon as possible.