[OPINION] Myanmar: Children are still bearing the brunt of the military coup

The following piece was written collectively by Amihan Abueva and other former representatives to the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.

More than six months after the coup in Myanmar, children are still suffering through a horrific situation they have done nothing to bring about. The junta and its proxies have killed scores of boys and girls, arbitrarily detained hundreds, and driven the country to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe. Now, the military’s deadly mismanagement of COVID-19 is causing untold destruction and leaving children orphaned.

As former representatives to the ASEAN body dealing with the rights of women and children, it is heartbreaking to watch the damage done to a whole generation of children in an ASEAN Member State. The world must act now to save Myanmar from the military’s brutality, with ASEAN playing a leading role. The appointment of a Special Envoy is a chance for the bloc to put genuine pressure on the junta to end brutal human rights violations against its own people. ASEAN should also throw its weight behind international humanitarian efforts to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

The stakes for boys and girls in Myanmar could not be higher. In July, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child warned that children in Myanmar “are under siege” because of the military coup. The junta has been responsible for a catalogue of child rights violations since trying to seize power in February, ranging from killings and senseless violence, to arbitrary arrests or the military occupation of schools.

According to the UN, at least 75 children have been killed in Myanmar in the past six months, although the actual number is thought to be much higher. Some boys and girls lost their lives in the brutal response to peaceful street protests earlier this year, while others were simply hit by stray bullets. In just one tragic example, six-year-old Khin Myo Chit died in her father’s arms after security forces opened indiscriminate fire during a raid in Mandalay in late March.

Child rights groups in Myanmar have also documented countless other acts of violence against boys and girls, including beatings, torture, sexual violence, and threats. Children who are “lucky” enough to survive such heinous acts will still live with physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives. One 16-year-old girl in Karen State told a local child rights group that she feels terrified every time she hears a dog bark, since it could mean that soldiers are approaching.

More than 1,000 children have been arbitrarily detained since the coup, often because of their participation in peaceful protests. Many face potential charges under sections of the penal code or other laws that seek to criminalize speaking out and voicing peaceful opinions, as the junta tries to repress any criticism. At least 104 children remained in detention in late July, many in the notorious Insein prison where they are at risk of torture, or a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Education has also been severely disrupted since the coup, a particular concern in a country where millions have been out of school for more than a year due to the pandemic. There have been more than 100 violent incidents in schools since the military takeover, while the UN has also warned of security forces essentially occupying learning centers in direct violation of international law. At the same time, the economic crisis brought by the coup has hit children and their families the hardest. A recent survey by Save the Children revealed nearly 75% of households polled across seven regions were struggling to meet basic needs.

Now, Myanmar is also facing a vicious wave of COVID-19, with some of the highest positive testing rates in the world. The junta has fatally mismanaged the situation by hogging oxygen and other vital supplies for themselves and their cronies, and even arrested and attacked medical personnel trying to save lives.

This world must act now before it is too late. There must be an international humanitarian response in Myanmar, including aid workers on the ground, to get life-saving assistance to millions of people suffering. Humanitarian assistance should not be channelled through the junta, which clearly has no interest in helping its own people. Instead, it should be directed through ethnic administrations, civil society organizations, and service providers whose networks can reach those in need. Special focus must be placed on the need of children to cope with this unprecedented crisis.

ASEAN must do everything it can to end this crisis, which needs a regional solution. Although ASEAN agreed on a “five-point consensus” plan on Myanmar in April to address the crisis, the situation has continued to get worse day by day – especially for women and children.

The long-overdue appointment of a Special Envoy for Myanmar – Brunei’s Second Foreign Minister, Erywan Yusof – is a step in the right direction. ASEAN should now ensure that the Special Envoy has a strong human rights mandate and engages with all relevant actors in Myanmar. The bloc must pressure the junta to immediately end brutal violations against people in the country, in particular children and the most vulnerable. It should also offer its full political and logistical support to humanitarian aid to tackle the COVID-19 wave.

With Myanmar’s boys and girls struggling to survive, the world cannot stand idly by.

Signed by

Amihan Abueva, former Philippine Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC
Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, former Malaysian Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC
Taufan Damanik,  former Indonesian Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC
Aurora Javate de Dios, former Philippine Representative on Women’s Rights to the ACWC
Rita Serena Kolibongso, former Indonesian Representative on Women’s Rights to the ACWC
Yuyum Fhahni Paryani, former Indonesian Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC
Datin Paduka Hajah Intan bte Haji Mohd. Kassim, former Brunei Darussalam Representative on Children’s Rights, and Representative on Women’s Rights to the ACWC
Albert Muyot, former Philippine Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC
Mae Fe Templa, former Philippine Representative on Children’s Rights to the ACWC

– Rappler.com

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