Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

On the Irrawaddy Riverbank Migrants Struggle to Eke out a Living 

Zaw Zaw The Irrawaddy

MANDALAY — Leading a life of hand-to-mouth existence, over 100 internal migrants bake blocks every day in one of the brickworks near Don Kone and Thayet Tapin—small villages on the bank of the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay’s Patheingyi Township.

In this area there are four brickworks, and each location contains more than 20 small kilns. These workplaces are unique in the way that entire families, with the exception of babies, can be found working there.

In some cases, children as young as five years of age share in their family’s labor when they really should be playing or studying at school.

Living in make-shift huts, the migrants have moved from other parts of Mandalay Division to the riverbank in order to earn a living.

For most of these families, the meager wages and the high cost of food mean that everyone has to work. There is no other way to meet production goals and to earn the money they need to sustain themselves.

In some cases, when adult workers have fallen ill, they have asked their employers for an advance on their wages until they can recover. Then, when they are unable to pay the money back quickly, they pull their children into working with them.

The migrant families will bake bricks on the bank of the Irrawaddy River until the rainy season, when water levels rise and clay is no longer available. Then they will move—along with their families—to another brickworks controlled by the same owners in Madaya Township, continuing the vicious cycle.