Myanmar leads ASEAN on child rights and protection

Myanmar is the leading country in Southeast Asia in eliminating corporal punishment and child labour following the ratification of a minimum age obligation and passsage of a landmark legislation.

In November, the parliament approved the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Minimum Age Convention No 138. The 18-article convention seeks to abolish child labour and support the physical, mental and economic development of young people, while allowing Myanmar and other underdeveloped countries to employ children aged 12 to 14 for non-harmful light work.

This follows the enactment of the Child Rights Law a few months earlier, a move which garnered widespread recognition and support among civil society organisations for the advancement of children’s rights, particularly in ending violence against children. The legislation was applauded by the likes of UNICEF, Human Rights Watch and Save the Children.

Save the Children, which has operations in Myanmar, hailed the nation as a leader in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the issue of any form of punishment perpetrated against children.

“This is a significant step forward in the elimination of physical and humiliating punishment of children, which unfortunately is widespread not only in Myanmar, but in many countries around the world,” said Duncan Harvey, Myanmar national director of Save the Children.

The legislation also made some very positive changes, he added, such as lifting the age of the definition of children to 18 from 16, and setting the legal marriage age at 18. The adjustment aligns Myanmar with international standards set out by the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child ratified by the government in 1991.

“The new Child Rights Law sets higher standards for safeguarding the rights of children in all circumstances,” Mr Harvey said, adding that Save the Children is “pleased to see specific measures in place to prevent and respond to violations perpetrated against children in conflict situations.”

Child labour

The law provides legal protection and security for children at work by establishing the minimum age for work at 14, and prohibiting the worst form of child labour in accordance with the ILO Convention No. 182, covering slavery, sexual exploitation and drug-trafficking.

Approximately 1.1 million children aged between 5 and 17 are among Myanmar’s 22-million labour force, and about half of them are employed under hazardous working conditions, according to the government’s 2015 Labour Force Survey.

As with other laws in Myanmar, the success of the policy depends on how effective the implementation is. For example, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population has yet to finalise a list of hazardous jobs to put the new law into force.

Meanwhile, The Myanmar Times reported recently that some members of parliament have cast doubt on the ability of the authorities to enforce the legal framework.

Daw Tin Tin Win, MP for constituency 5 in Bago Region in the Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House), said ratification of the ILO convention is “useless” if the government does not have the resources to implement it.

For Save the Children, changes in practice will take time and it is important that that enforcement of laws are followed through by authorities, and that families who rely on the labour of minors are supported to transition away from harmful practices.

“Save the Children looks forward to supporting the Department of Social Welfare in particular, to implement the Child Rights Law by strengthening effective response to and prevention of all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence,” said Mr Harvey.

Children’s rights to citizenship

The law, however, still has some flaws. Despite guaranteeing the birth registration for all children born within Myanmar, it fails to assure children’s rights to citizenship.

Children born to parents whom the Myanmar government does not recognise as citizens, or who left the country illegally or fled persecution, including the Rohingya Muslims and women trafficked out of Myanmar, are denied citizenship rights. The discriminatory practice effectively makes those children stateless.

“Without citizenship, children have difficulty entering school, obtaining health care, and travelling inside the country as well as abroad, according to an online commentary by Human Rights Watch regarding the new legislation.

“Citizenship is one of the most critical aspects of human rights and without it, many children are born into disadvantage through no fault of their own,” Mr Harvey of Save the Children added.

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Source : Myanmar Tims

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