As the historic elections in Myanmar draws closer, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children urged potential leaders of the country to prioritize children and commit to providing them with a fair start in life.
“In the months leading up to this election, UNICEF and Save the Children have been campaigning with children and other child-focused agencies in a call to political parties to commit to improving the lives of children should they get elected,” explains Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar in a press release.
UNICEF said that ahead of the elections on November 8, the two organizations engaged with over 80 political parties in the country, urging them to prioritize children in their manifestos, which led to 37 parties including children in their campaigns, particularly by highlighting education, health, nutrition, social welfare and protection.
“We hope that this will help put children at the centre of voters’ choices and that the elections results will have a clear winner – children,” said Mr. Bainvel.
According to UNICEF estimates, over 60 per cent children in Myanmar still live in poverty and about one in 14 do not live to the age of five. In addition, over a third of children aged between five and 18 do not go to school as many work to support their families.
“From our experience on the ground, we know that children are eager to learn and want to break free from the poverty cycle,” said Kelly Stevenson, Country Director for Save the Children.
She explains that as 70 per cent of Myanmar’s families live close to the poverty line, the reality for them is a hungry household, and unaffordable out-of-pocket expenditures for an education and life-saving health services.
“Around 1.6 million children, or 20 per cent of children in Myanmar between ages 10 and 18, are now employed, some exploited with low wages or forced to work under hazardous conditions. These vulnerable children are also at risk of recruitment into armed forces and trafficking,” Ms. Stevenson added.
The two organizations recommended a series of policy changes that can help dramatically improve the lives of children and their families.
This includes increasing government budget for education, health and social welfare from 9 to 15 per cent, consolidate and implement recently established frameworks that will benefit children such as Social Protection Strategic Plan, National Education Sector Plan and finalization of the draft Child Law.
The two organizations also suggested setting up a new compact for children such as prioritizing the first 1,000 days of life and providing free and compulsory education. They also recommended setting bold new targets for them such as universal birth registration by 2017, reduce under five mortality rate and malnutrition by 50 per cent by 2020, and reduce school drop out after the age of 10 by 70 per cent.
Mr. Bainvel emphasized that Myanmar’s upcoming election is a time for future leaders to become “champions for children in the new Union Parliament.”
“Our mission doesn’t end after the elections. We are committed to keep working with elected candidates, so that they keep their promises to children,” he added.