Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bleak Future for Burmese Stateless Children

The Irrawaddy News

BANGKOK—Stateless Burmese children in Thailand are still being denied basic rights such as access to education and health services, and they are vulnerable to many kinds of exploitation and abuse, specialists say.

It is estimated that there are about one million stateless children in Thailand, with about two thirds of them thought to be born to Burmese migrant workers who come in search of a better life.

As migrant children face insurmountable challenges to entering the Thai education system, many pursue education in the migrant learning centers opened by NGOs. (Photo: Thawdar/ The Irrawaddy)

"The stateless children,” Kanchana Di-ut, Program officer with MAP Foundation, said, “are denied basic human rights from time of birth."

“They are denied birth registrations and certificates, which are essential to gaining access to basic education and health services,” Kanchana said.

The Thai government, which ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has instructed all state-hospitals to issue birth registration documents to any baby born to any parents, regardless of their backgrounds. However, in practice, many hospital staff reportedly fail to do so in the case of migrants.

Most Burmese women who are not registered migrants dare not go to state-hospitals to give birth, as they fear arrest and deportation if the hospital notices they are unregistered. As a result, they deliver their children at their work sites using local midwives.

Burmese migrant parents do not realize the importance of birth certificates for their children, nor do they know where and how to get them for their children.

Making matters worse is the possibility of arbitrary arrest and deportation facing unregistered migrants. This discourages parents from taking their children to local health-care facilities, risking their children missing basic inoculations against crippling diseases such as polio.

Stateless children are not given equal rights in the education system.

According to the Peace Way Foundation in Thailand, a migrant child can only be educated if a teacher is willing to accept the child, and the family can afford it. In some areas, children can attend classes, but with little hope of obtaining a Thai certificate of education, which is essential for further study.

In 2005, the government adopted a policy entitled "Education for All", which was intended to give all children in Thailand equal access to schooling. Practice does not reflect this policy, however.

Even Thailand's Deputy Education Minister, Chaiwut Bannawat, admitted that there remains a large number of children who fail to receive education, even though the Kingdom has strived to provide educational opportunities for all children.

While some children face the problem of a language barrier to enter Thai schools, others have to work to support their families.

The inability to get Thai certificates of education is another reason specialists give for Burmese children not continuing their education when they migrate to Thailand with their families.

A very low percentage of stateless children are able to further their studies in Thai schools and go on to foreign countries on scholarship programs.

Aye Aye Mar, the founder of Social Action for Women (SAW), said, “If children see no prospect for their future, they just take any job available in their community, which does not help them towards establishing better livelihoods.” SAW is an NGO providing shelter, training, and learning centers for Burmese women and children.

Aye Aye Mar also noted that many teenagers move to urban cities to seek better jobs using agents, which can make them vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse.

There are several cases of human trafficking in which teenagers are being illegally transported to the cities.

Tattiya Likitwong, a project coordinator for the Child Development Foundation, was quoted as saying that the child labor situation in Thailand has not improved because children, including stateless children from Burma, Laos and Cambodia, can be found working in businesses, particularly in the big cities.

Employers have registered more than 200,000 migrant children between the ages of 15 to 18 working in their business, while many more have not been registered, Tattiya Likitwong said. Many of the children work in the fishing industry, or sell flowers by the roadside or beg on the streets

Unlike refugees, these stateless children get neither recognition nor aid by regional and international agencies.

“Shockingly little is being done to protect the basic rights of millions of stateless children around the world,” said Maureen Lynch of Refugees International's Senior Advocate for Stateless Initiatives, and author of Futures Denied.

“These children are stigmatized and blocked from such basic services as health care and education because a government won't recognize them as citizens,” she said.

Lynch also said, “Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality, these children are forced into an underclass with little hope for the future through no fault of their own.”

This girl had to drop out of the school in order to assist her family collecting and selling plastic bags for a living in Mae Sot. (Photo: Thawdar/ The Irrawaddy)

Lynch believes that reducing statelessness is achievable. “By ensuring that every child is registered at birth, granting citizenship in cases of disputed nationality, and strengthening the UN Refugee Agency so it can do more to resolve this problem are just a few of the simple steps that can help millions of children access a brighter future,” Lynch said.

Thai government amended the law on civil registration in 2008, which means that all children born in Thailand regardless of the legal status of their parents can receive birth registrations.

“Efforts are underway to ensure that the system is accessible and well known to parents, including stateless parents, local officials and communities,” Amanda Bissex, Chief of Child Protection Section with UNICEF Thailand, said.

She also maintains that systems also need to be developed between Thailand and neighboring countries to ensure children born in Thailand that have received birth registration here can receive nationality in the country of origin of their parents.

In a bid to promote and protect human rights, including those of vulnerable stateless children, the Asean Human Rights Body (AHRB) was created, and would be enforced sooner or later by the cooperation of the member states.

While some human rights specialists expect the AHRB would address the cross-border issues of registration, improve information sharing and systems between ASEAN countries to build a regional initiative for both birth registration and civil registration, some specialists doubt the effectiveness of the AHRB.

“The AHRB would be nothing more than a paper-tiger,” Aung Myo Min, director of Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, said, “if regional governments, most of which have records of violation of human rights in their countries, fail to respect it.”

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too