‘Children must be top priority’, says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at end of three-day visit
NEW YORK/GENEVA/NAY PYI TAW/YANGON, 30 January 2019 – UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore urged Myanmar’s authorities to invest in all children, to build a stronger, more harmonious society that will support Myanmar’s progress and stability.
Fore, who just wrapped up a three-day visit to the country, met Government officials in the capital city Nay Pyi Taw, and children and families in Rakhine State.
“More than 120,000 children in Myanmar still live in squalid camps due to ongoing conflicts, with limited access to education, health, or protection services; at the same time 55 per cent of all children are living in poverty,” Fore said. “It is time to invest in the country’s most vulnerable children, no matter their religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.”
Fore took that message to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and emphasized the urgent need to grant agencies regular humanitarian access, and to expand the coverage and quality of basic services for all children, including children in rural areas and those affected by conflict. They also discussed the critical role that education can play in fostering social cohesion, peace and prosperity.
Fore also met the Minister of Defense, Lieutenant General Sein Win. She recognized the progress made in ending underage recruitment and use of children by the military and urged that action plans be adopted to address the two new grave violations of children’s rights for which the military was listed in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Fore also asked if the current ceasefire could open opportunities for humanitarian access and vaccinations particularly in Shan and Kachin States.
In Nay Pyi Taw, Fore attended the high-level forum ‘Realizing Myanmar’s Development Vision for Every Child’. She highlighted the gains made in recent years, including the vaccination of 14 million children against Japanese encephalitis, and called for broad-based partnerships to tackle challenges including to give vocational skills and life skills to young people in the second decade of life. Half of 17-year-olds enter adulthood having completed little or no education. 50 out of 1,000 children die before they reach five years of age. Nearly 5 million children do not drink from improved water sources. One in five children is not registered at birth. She pledged UNICEF’s support in realizing the child-focused elements of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.
In Rakhine state, Fore saw firsthand how children from different communities are bearing the scars of violence and communal tension.
“One of the camps I visited was designed as a temporary shelter but has been housing families for more than six years,” Fore said. “Living conditions are sub-optimal to say the least, stripping children of their dignity and exposing them to violence, exploitation, disease and neglect. Families are confined to the camps, depriving them of a livelihood and leaving their children malnourished.”
“For younger children, confinement is the only reality they have ever known,” Fore said.
At the center providing nutrition support for malnourished young children and counselling support for caregivers, Fore observed that mothers are unable to follow optimal feeding practices, primarily as a result of their confinement in the camp – leading to low household income, limited access to markets, and reduced dietary diversity.
“Severe restrictions on their freedom of movement limit their access to livelihoods and public services such as health and education,” Fore said.
In Mingan Quarter of the Rakhine State capital Sittwe, Fore visited a UNICEF supported non-formal primary education programme for children who have either dropped out or never enrolled in primary school in a community of ethnic Rakhine people who had been displaced since the 2012 inter-communal violence.
UNICEF is also working to build social cohesion by supporting inclusive education. In 2018 alone, targeted support to uphold an inclusive education system enabled children to access 14 reconstructed or rehabilitated child-friendly schools, reaching cumulatively, over 30,000 children throughout Rakhine State. A new project with DFID funding is supporting education and promoting social cohesion in 46 mixed schools in northern Rakhine.
Approximately 128,000 Muslims – including about 126,000 stateless Rohingya – remain in camps or camp-like settings in central Rakhine, as a result of the violence in 2012. Children make up at least 53 per cent of this population. An additional 470,000 non-displaced stateless Rohingya are spread across 10 townships.
In northern Rakhine, access restrictions announced by the Government in early January, following increased conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, are affecting children in five townships.
With close to a million Rohingya refugee children and their families living across the border in Bangladesh, Fore called on Government officials and the military to take the necessary steps to enable their safe, voluntary and dignified return while urging a lasting solution to the plight of the Rohingya people, which means addressing the root causes of the crisis inside Myanmar itself.
In Yangon, the Executive Director spoke before business, civil society and Government leaders at the 2019 U Thant Memorial Lecture.
“I encourage the Government and businesses alike to invest in education for all children in all states and regions,” Fore said. “There is no better pathway to peace than by supporting young people to shape better futures for themselves — no matter who they are, or what they’ve endured.”
She shared elements of Generation Unlimited, a new global partnership including businesses and young people to identify and scale-up new solutions to support skills and vocational training for young people.
“We need to work together so children from all communities in Myanmar are able to see their future in the country,” said Fore at the end of her visit.
Note to editors:
On Tuesday, 29 January 2019, UNICEF launched The Humanitarian Action for Children 2019, in which UNICEF is appealing for US$3.9 billion in emergency assistance for 41 million children affected by conflict or disaster. In Myanmar, UNICEF is seeking US$59.1 million for humanitarian support across the country.
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