Owing largely to civil war, issues like poverty, lack of knowledge of child rights, poor access to education and child malnutrition are serious concerns in the Northern Karen State, Myanmar. Democratic values such as respect for the rights of the child, equality and social justice are weak, and children are often subject to abuse, neglect and exploitation.
International Needs Australia's (INA) Child Rights Project in Myanmar is a child-led initiative allowing children to reclaim their voice. It creates a safe space for children to highlight issues in their community that deny them their rights.
INA partners with the Karen Women's Empowerment Group (KWEG), who work with seven communities around Thandaunggyi Township. Together they teach leaders, parents and teachers about child rights violations. They also make sure that children themselves are central to the decision-making process, and are aware of the action needed to bring about a safe, caring and supporting environment.
The creation of Child Rights Clubs is giving children the opportunity to collaborate and identify where their rights are not being met within their communities. It allows a platform for children to coordinate with local authorities and other Community Based Organisations so that their rights are promoted and protected.
The children involved in the Child Rights Clubs are taught that there are laws to protect them, and that they have a right to care and education. They are also taught how to take action. Through surveying their community, they have identified the biggest problems for children, like dropping out of school to help the family. Importantly, they are now able to seek justice by presenting their findings to parliament.
Naw (not her real name) is a participant in a Child Rights Club. Before joining, she had very little understanding of what her rights were. She now says with conviction, "A child has rights to be protected from any form of abuse." Children in rural Myanmar like Naw have less of an opportunity to learn or think for themselves, and often lack the ability and opportunity to express their feelings to others. But now, appointed secretary of her group, she is strong and confident to speak as a girl, be a leader in her community, and advocate for children to be safe and healthy.
This project is funded through Australian Aid from the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).