San fights for the children’s future
A third of all children in Myanmar aren’t able to go to school. They have to work to contribute to the family’s livelihood. “Most children work in agriculture, factories, restaurants and in Rangoon’s simple cafés,” says Mg San Hlaing, who works for the organization ADD, part of Diakonia’s network.
Many people have been left behind in the economic development in Myanmar. The average salary for a worker is a mere 60 dollars. This is why a third of children are forced to work and thus help support the family financially, according to estimates from the UN.
Mg San Hlaing is employed by ADD, Action for Development and Dignity, which works for children’s rights. He helps child workers who are forced to work in simple cafés. He himself is poor and finds it hard to support his family. But he has still chosen to get involved in helping vulnerable children.
“There are those worse off than me. So many children are being exploited,” he says.
He takes us to one of the cafés. It’s very crowded and quite noisy. The child workers run between the tables so they can quickly serve all the guests. These cafés are popular among Rangoon residents - they meet friends and can have breakfast, lunch and dinner there. When Mg gets the chance he speaks to the children about the organization he comes from and tells them they can contact him if they need help.
The children come from rural areas and have been sent to the city to earn money for the family. They often work seven days a week and usually 10 hours a day. Despite this they only earn between 120 and 150 Swedish kronor a month and are not able to go to school.
“ADD’s project offers the children a 3-day course where they learn more about their rights,” he continues.
When he meets the children, he tells them what ADD can offer.
“We also try to explain to the café owners why it’s important that the children can go to school. We have to educate both the child workers and the owners, otherwise nothing will change.”
To avoid the children’s absence affecting his business so much, the café owner only lets two children from each café take part in the course at the same time so that they can stay open as usual.
“The children are very interested in this course. We also encourage them to start school and have a mobile library with books they can borrow. Many of the children try to learn to read and write in the evenings. As their families need the income they earn, the majority don’t dare to stop working.”
Mg San Hlaing has spent many evenings and weekends helping the child workers.
“Children are the future for Myanmar. I’m hopeful that our new government will protect them and offer all of them the chance to go to school,” he says. “But for this to happen, we have to change our constitution - that’s the challenge going forward.”