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.”

READ MORE---> Bleak Future for Burmese Stateless Children...

Behind the Lens

The Irrawaddy News

"Burma VJ" was this year’s winner of the coveted Joris Ivens Award for best documentary over 60 minutes in length, This is the top award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, the largest documentary film festival in the world. The film celebrates the courage of the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a group of exiled Burmese journalists who secretly film the abuse of peoples in Burma. The film recounts the efforts of a small group of independent video journalists (VJs) who risked their safety, freedom and lives to record popular protests and the military government’s brutal response. The co-writer of the film, Jan Krogsgaard, spoke to The Irrawaddy about the film:

Question: Congratulations on winning the best documentary award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. Is Burma VJ going to be an entrant, or will it show at other forthcoming festivals?

Answer: Burma VJ has been selected for screenings at all major festivals around the world. I think it has received 22 awards and 2 special mentions up till now. HBO and several other TV-stations will broadcast it soon, and it has just been released for DVD sales in the USA and UK.

And recently former Czechoslovakian president Vaclav Havel showed the movie to Hillary Clinton when Obama was in Prague. The Czechs are currently the chairman of the EU, and they use the film in their campaign for human rights.

Q: What do you think the impact of the film has been so far?

A: I presented it at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the audience was very touched.

It must seem like a breath of fresh air to the large international community who are concerned about the destiny of the people of Burma. It seems like they have been waiting for this for a long time, waiting for a move from the Burmese people that would show that the Burmese were trying to help themselves. It has to come from the Burmese first.

The film also shows how it is possible to bring about change by using a mobile phone to film something of significance, and to connect it to a TV-station willing to expose the footage. This mobile technology could initiate a revolution, or even a war under certain circumstances, but it would best of all would be if it could bring about peace.

But we are talking about cameras, not weapons.

I do believe that the movie will bring something positive to people inside Burma. New VJ’s will emerge from the underground, and others will be encouraged to do new things.

However, there is a downside, and this is that people filmed in the street get exposed, and this might help the Burmese military intelligence as well.

In Burma, positive news always carries the risk of potential disaster within.

Q: How did you meet Joshua and how was the decision made to make him the main character?

A: We were following a training session in 2007 in which around a dozen DVB VJ’s were getting basic training on how to do short news programs. We were looking for our protagonist, which is how we met Joshua. He had good humor and laughed easily, and he was endearing to those around him. He spoke okay English, had experience in journalism, was serious about his mission, narrated well, and he seemed to be able to create a necessary mix of irreverence and prudence while maintaining a sense of immediacy, of being in the here and now.

Q: Do you think he is a hero?

A: one Burmese woman providing shelter for Burmese girls who had been victims of trafficking in Thailand once said to me: “Jan, we are like people without protection protecting people without protection”.

Joshua and his fellow VJ’s do not have the luxury of being embedded journalists. It takes guts to do what any undercover reporter in Burma is doing, and they are just ordinary people like you and I.

If a hero is a person who, without protection, shows exceptional courage for the well-being of others—then, yes, he or she is heroic.

I followed Joshua to Rangoon as a kind of mission control, going there during the Water Festival in April, ostensibly to film the festival, but this was a cover for our real mission. I had three phone numbers I could use to contact him, and they just closed down one by one. It was nerve-racking. I wondered what could have happened, whether I had made a terrible mistake. We had become pretty close during our weeks working together. I had restless days during the festival, getting drenched and then drunk in noisy Rangoon. All the while I was trying to forget what had happened the previous September, and what could be happening to Joshua.

Fortunately, we met again outside Burma some days later. What he had done during that trip was to bring immense benefit to everybody in the network.

Q: What was DVB’s role in the film?

A: First of all they were there whenever we needed them, from the beginning in 2005. After the uprising they helped us get as much footage as possible. Later, when there were days of uncertainty in the editing room in Denmark, especially over translation, they provided vital help, and they crosschecked all material for any confidential leaks.

Q: What surprised you the most during your trip inside Burma before making the film?

A: Actually, I first went to Burma to film “Burma Manipulated” in 2003, so I was not that surprised at things. However I did feel that Burma was somehow different from what I had experienced before.

There were three kinds of atmospheres, or scenes if you like, that I remember clearly:
The first one hit me almost immediately I arrived in Burma. It was a sense that something was very wrong.

Of course you know that things are not good from the news, from hearing rumors and from all the diverse sources of information about Burma. But this came directly from my senses; it was like feeling that there was something profoundly sad in the air.

I had felt it before, sensing it coming from my father when I was a kid, and I felt it again in Poland in 1983 when the military crushed the aspiring democracy movement, dashing hopes to despair after years of communist rule. It was a feeling as if every particle and molecule surrounding you had become permeated with enduring sadness.

When I returned to Rangoon last year I got that same feeling again, and I remembered what Joshua had told me during one of our many late night recording sessions, when I asked him how he felt about one of his close compatriots who was in jail, and who had become paralyzed after torture.

“I feel hna myaw tal,” he answered.

It took a while for us to get the metaphor translated; it meant something like “broken beyond repair.” These words described what I felt pervaded almost everything in Burma—it was a sense that almost everything was somehow “broken beyond repair”.

It seems ironic, but you know that Buddhist monks in Burmese monasteries teach that one of the four causes of decline and decay is “omitting to repair that which has been damaged.

The second feeling I clearly remember was at Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. The atmosphere was almost the opposite of a sad one. I could spend many an evening there. No doubt people came and uttered a lot of prayers for a better future, but it still remained a very pleasant place. It was so peaceful, so full of a gentle, colorful life that seemed to go on in a slow-paced continuum—kids playing, old men talking, teenage girls sitting under low hanging bells sharing confidences. It all seemed so distant from what goes on in a Christian place of worship.

Finally I had this inconclusive feeling—after traveling from Rangoon up to Putao at the foot of the Himalayas and back—that there was a kind of untapped reservoir of deeply rooted intellectualism, as well as a lot of other good human qualities, that lay just below the surface, like a rich sub-culture, waiting for the opportunity to burst forth.

Q: Andrew Marshall, writing in Time Magazine, criticized the use of dramatic reenactments as dishonest and hurting the film’s credibility. How do you respond to that?

A: I do understand Andrew Marshall’s journalistic concerns.

But any recall from memory will always be a reconstruction. The words we use in our daily life are inadequate reconstructions of our reality. The second you start talking, you are sucked into fragmented reconstructions. That’s how it’s!

As an interviewer you have to try and enter the person you interview—if possible. The interviewee is reconstructing his or her own experiences. When you write an article, or you film someone talking about the past, you are already in the landscape of reconstruction.

It was obvious to us that the “self reconstructions” were crucial to serving the collective memory of the VJ’s and what happened in Rangoon in September 2007.

During the film recordings we worked closely with the VJ's, helping them recall their memories through reenactments. We just used cameras and microphones instead of the pen.

It was really time consuming trying to get it as authentic as possible.

We had to do it in a way that would touch any audience in the best possible way. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the VJ's and the people of Burma to get their message out to the world, and we had to be humble, innovative and do our utmost to help them get that message across.

If we hadn’t done it the way we did, if we had taken the classic journalistic route, had shown blurred faces with distorted voices and a journalist’s voice over, I doubt whether the people of Burma would have had this collective audiovisual memory called "Burma VJ." It would have been just another documentary on this important issue.

READ MORE---> Behind the Lens...

Heal the World

Michael Jackson's

Lyrics below
(open the lyrics link before you start the video or it will throw you onto a new screen)

"Heal The World"

There's A Place In
Your Heart
And I Know That It Is Love
And This Place Could
Be Much
Brighter Than Tomorrow
And If You Really Try
You'll Find There's No Need
To Cry
In This Place You'll Feel
There's No Hurt Or Sorrow

There Are Ways
To Get There
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Little Space
Make A Better Place...

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

If You Want To Know Why
There's A Love That
Cannot Lie
Love Is Strong
It Only Cares For
Joyful Giving
If We Try
We Shall See
In This Bliss
We Cannot Feel
Fear Or Dread
We Stop Existing And
Start Living

Then It Feels That Always
Love's Enough For
Us Growing
So Make A Better World
Make A Better World...

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

And The Dream We Were
Conceived In
Will Reveal A Joyful Face
And The World We
Once Believed In
Will Shine Again In Grace
Then Why Do We Keep
Strangling Life
Wound This Earth
Crucify Its Soul
Though It's Plain To See
This World Is Heavenly
Be God's Glow

We Could Fly So High
Let Our Spirits Never Die
In My Heart
I Feel You Are All
My Brothers
Create A World With
No Fear
Together We'll Cry
Happy Tears
See The Nations Turn
Their Swords
Into Plowshares

We Could Really Get There
If You Cared Enough
For The Living
Make A Little Space
To Make A Better Place...

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living
Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me
You And For Me

READ MORE---> Heal the World...

Australian Stern Hu 'thrown to the Chinese wolves'

Stern Hu 'thrown to the wolves'

By Matt O'Sullivan

The jailed Australian businessman Sterh Hu in 1991.

STERN HU has been "thrown to the wolves".

That is the view of John Dougall, the former boss of the Rio Tinto executive detained in Shanghai. Describing Mr Hu as a "trade hero", Mr Dougall called for the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to act quickly to ensure "these outrageous charges are dropped".

"I just want to speak out strongly and say, 'here is a great Australian that we need to get behind'. Mr Rudd has to do more than sit back and let Stern be thrown to the wolves," he told the Herald yesterday. "The allegations are pretty serious. Espionage is a very serious charge in China. I just can't believe that this has happened to him."

Mr Dougall, the executive chairman of the Australian services company AWA, joined many of Mr Hu's former colleagues in Sydney in describing the Australian as a man of high integrity who was responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of exports to China.


He sponsored Mr Hu's bid for citizenship in 1994, which meant the Tianjin native had to give up his Chinese passport. "I saw him in action with all levels of the Chinese Government," Mr Dougall said. "Many people in Australia and China regard Stern as a trade hero and his treatment is outrageous."

Mr Dougall and Ron Gosbee, chief executive of Interscan Navigation Systems, have been in daily contact with Mr Hu's wife, Julie, since he was arrested on Sunday.

"She is shocked, as you would expect," Mr Gosbee said. "She doesn't know why he was taken … and had no idea what the charges were." Mr Gosbee said Ms Hu had expected her husband to be released on Tuesday night. "She is being told nothing. The only information she is getting is gleaned from the consular office.

"The problem is no one knows what is going on and everyone feels a little bit helpless," he said.

Mr Gosbee said Ms Hu had told him her husband had not expressed any concerns that he was about to be arrested.

"He is of the highest integrity," he said. "His ethics are so high he just would not get involved in anything that was not above board."

Mr Hu's parents endured years in labour camps during the Cultural Revolution, a fate Mr Gosbee hopes does not await his close friend of 20 years.

"One of the reasons I really feel for him is that … he was left on his own and later with his grandparents when his parents were put in a labour camp.

"Just to think that any foreign citizen can be plucked from the street and incarcerated without charge is pretty scary. The problem with the legal system in China is no one understands it outside China."

Mr Hu joined AWA in 1990 as its China manager in Beijing. He left six years later to work for CRA, now Rio Tinto. His wife lived in Manly for about two years in the early 1990s, during which time she gained Australian citizenship. The Hus have lived in Shanghai since 2000. They have two children, Terence, who is about 20 and working in hospitality, and Charlie, about 15.

Mr Hu lived in Sydney for about eight months but never worked here. Instead, he regularly brought out delegations from China's civil aviation authority.

Roger Chan, a former AWA executive, said his friend's arrest was a complete shock. "We don't believe he would steal state secrets. That is just nonsense," he said.

READ MORE---> Australian Stern Hu 'thrown to the Chinese wolves'...

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