Feature story

Child labour and lack of quality education in rural communities in Myanmar

While a ceremony was held in Yangon, with governmental, employers and workers organizations, civil society representatives, and international partners, Myanmar Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (My-PEC) also implemented awareness-raising activities in Mon and Kayin states, targeting one of the most concerning and vulnerable areas for child labour: the rural communities.

Feature | 30 June 2015
On 11th June, more than 200 people celebrated the World Day Against Child Labour in a basic education school in the Village of Taung Kalay, Hpa’an Township, in Kayin State. Among the participants coming from 10 different neighbouring villages are children with their smiling faces, and also male and female adults from different backgrounds: teachers, parents, business owners, local authorities, police officers, among others. Art competition for schoolchildren, theatre play, singing performances from local artists and a workshop for adults were organized to raise awareness on child labour and quality education in this community. “Child labour is a major issue in Kayin State. Many children work in restaurant, tea shops, factories, or farms. Other migrate to Thailand with their family to find a job,” said Naw Cynthia Win, Area Manager from Karen Women Empowerment Group (KWEG).

In this rural area of Myanmar, a majority of children drop out after primary school, mainly because the parents cannot afford to send their children to middle school. The adults also highlighted during this event that even if the Government is providing free education, they need a better quality education system. 
“Our education system is just focused on ‘learning by heart’. But after a while, you forget it all. We have to change to an education system better adapted to the needs of the children, where pupils understand easily what they are learning and where they can express themselves freely”, Naw Cynthia Win.

According to the teachers, parents don’t believe that school could provide a better future for their children. This is how lack of quality education has impacted the mind-set of the parents in negative way. “To get quality education, we need more teachers, better trained. We also need more adapted educative materials,” said Naw Htee Mu, teacher in a primary school, in the village of Yathawon.

Poverty, lack of quality of education and child labour

Even if one of the biggest root causes of child labour is poverty, the lack of quality education is thus another issue that has a direct influence on the high rate of child labourers in Myanmar. “Preliminary findings of our studies in Myanmar show that majority of the parents of child labourers, and the child labourers themselves, do not appreciate the value of education. But why? Maybe because they see that many who get higher education are not able to get decent job that is in commensurate to the level of education. Or maybe because the immediate need of the family is food for now and not education for future food,” said Jodelen Mitra, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for the My-PEC project.

Another issue linked to quality education in Myanmar; a country with more than 130 ethnic groups, is the lack of teaching in the local ethnic languages. Many kids in this region speak only Karen. Nan Kyi Wai San, 9 years old, a grade 5 pupil in the primary school of Hla Ka Myin, is one of them. With the sensitization session on child labour that was carried out in Karen language, she expressed “Today I have learned a lot about child labour. I know other kids of my age, working in teashop, farms, or collecting garbage. When I will meet their parents later, I will tell them that it is important that children have a chance to go to school.”

Sitting not far from Nan Kyi Wai San, Daw Khin Than Win, parent, had been talking with other parents on the same topic. “My two first children dropped out after primary school. The first one became a domestic worker, when she turned 13 years old. The second one, left the village to work in a Teashop. I would really want to put my last daughter to middle school, but I am not sure that we could afford it,” she said, noticeably moved by this issue.
“My parents were too poor to send me to school, I want a better future for my children!”

The following day, 80 children, teachers and parents celebrated World Day Against Child Labour in the Mon National Education Committee primary school, located in a small rural village, Thanbyuzayat Township, in Mon state, at less than 2 hours driving from Taung Kalay. The participants congregated in a traditional wooden house on stilts, with no access to electricity and running water. They attended the awareness-raising activities in Mon language and the children participated to a drawing competition on child labour. “It is really good to celebrate the World Day Against Child Labour in the communities affected by this issue. Today, some participants, out of their curiosity and interest on the child labour issue, stopped working in their rubber plantation for few hours and participated in the event. Organizing the event in their locality allows them to participate easily. If it were organized in big town or far away, they would not be easily able to participate, even if they are interested,” said Mi Thang Sorn Poine, Assistant Programme Coordinator for the Mon Women’s Organization.

Women organizations are one of the key actors to fight child labour on the grassroots level. “Most parents would opt to send their son, and not their daughter, to school. We need to do more awareness raising activities on this issue. If we want to fight child labour, you need first to know exactly what it is; and why do you have to combat it,” noted Mi Thang Sorn Poine.

Difficult access to schools

In this remote village, there are only two primary schools and public transportation are not available to go to the middle school. “Here in Mon, after primary school, the majority of children will go to work. We cannot afford school fees,” said Daw Khin Yee, who has five grandchildren. Nai Chan Mon, is facing the same problem for his son Mehm Kao Mon, 9 years old, who is finishing his primary school. “Next year, my son will go to middle school. I am happy that a truck driver friend will send my son to school every day. My parents were too poor to send me to school, I want a better future for my children!” he said.

Unfortunately, Mehm Kao Mon will be one of the only pupils of his class that will be able to go to middle school. Mi Rottana Mon will have to go to work with her mother. “Recently, my mother told me, that I would not go to middle school. My father passed away last year, and we are too poor now,” said sadly this 9 year-old girl, who consistently earned the highest score among her classmates for number of years.

For more information on My-PEC Project see My-PEC Project Updates.

Article written by Victor Fleury for My-PEC.