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Despite the economic and political reforms in Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) were elected in 2015, there are fears that many are not benefiting from these reforms. A UNICEF report, released last week states that the Myanmar government is failing to aid those children who are most affected by conflict and poverty in the country. According to this report, as many as 150 children under five die each day in Myanmar.
Since the loosening of the military junta’s control, and democratic reforms in 2010 there have been significant, positive actions to help children in the country. A draft child law and an increase in public funding for immunization programmes and education demonstrate the new civilian governments’ commitment to protecting children’s rights. Additionally, since the junta has relinquished control, it is easier for NGOs to operate and monitor conditions in the country.
Despite this, the report highlights that many children still live in terrible conditions, and are receiving little attention. They estimate that nearly 30% of children suffer from malnutrition, and that over half of all children live below the poverty line. “Myanmar faces a real challenge in ensuring that children everywhere – and not just in urban areas – gain from the country’s rapid development,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. He added, “There is a risk that many children and their families are excluded. This is especially the case for poorer children living in remote areas or trapped in situations of tension and conflict.”
Though the NLD won a majority in 2015, the country is still in a state of conflict, and international actors have accused the military of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Thus, in those areas still affected by violence children suffer greatly. In the Rakhine State alone 120,000 internally displaced people live in camps. The violence makes it difficult for aid workers and government policy to be effective in these areas. The report calls for greater humanitarian access to the 2.2 million children affected by the violence. This report comes during the latest round of peace talks. We can only hope that its content is taken into consideration at the talks.
This report highlights the monumental challenges that face the government in the wake of the long and oppressive military rule. The hope and enthusiasm that many in Myanmar, and internationally, felt seems to be failing to become a reality. Thus, much work is needed to make Myanmar a prosperous, and democratically fair state. While the economic liberalisation is certainly helping some with the former, it is vital that international actors, such as the UN, work to help resolve the conflict, and encourage welfare policy so that the latter may also be achieved.