Huge numbers of Myanmar’s children forced to work

Newly released census data shows that more than 20% of the country’s 10 to 17 year olds are in work

Daniel Besant
March 31, 2016
Huge numbers of Myanmar’s children forced to work
Not in school: a child labourer working at a construction site in Taunggo city. Photo: EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

Newly released census data shows that more than 20% of the country’s 10 to 17 year olds are in work

More than 1.5 million school-age children between 10 and 17 years of age in Myanmar are forced to work, according to data released on Tuesday from a 2014 census, the country’s first in three decades.

child labour myanmar
Not in school: a child labourer working at a construction site in Taunggo city. Photo: EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

“After the census, we found that over 1.5 million children aged between 10 and 17 have to work, though they should go to school,” said Khaing Khaing Soe of the Ministry of Immigration and Population. The figure represents 21% of children in that age group.
Children have long been a mainstay of Myanmar’s workforce, and the census found that more than 840,000 youngsters were employed as agricultural workers, more than 136,000 in small-scale manufacturing businesses, and more than 74,000 in construction.
“The issue itself is culturally accepted, because everywhere you go in this country, we see children working, in every sector,” Tim Aye-Hardy, the founder and director of the Myanmar Mobile Education Project, told Al Jazeera.
Under a law passed in 1951, children under the age of 13 are prohibited from working in shops and factories. The law also forbids children in the 13 to 15 age group from working for more than four hours a day. In December 2013, Myanmar’s parliament ratified the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999. This calls for the elimination of the “worst forms of child labour”, a list that includes slavery and the use of children in hazardous work and armed conflict.
In a statement released upon the publication of the data, Janet E. Jackson, the United Nations Population Fund’s representative for Myanmar, said that the children are missing out on the education that could lead to better jobs and employment security when they grow up.
“Myanmar’s youthful population puts the country on the verge of an economic boom, a phenomenon known as the ‘demographic dividend’,” Jackson wrote. “This potential can only be realised, however, if the country invests in its children and young people and provides adequate opportunities for training and productive work.”
Data from the ILO released in May 2014 showed that Vietnam had the highest rate of child labour in the region, for children aged 5 to 17, at 13.9%, just above Cambodia at 13.3%. Laos recorded 11.9% and Timor-Leste 10.8%. Indonesia had the lowest rate in the region: 4.6%. There was no data for that age range for Thailand and the remaining countries in Southeast Asia were not included in the report.
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