Myanmar recently passed into legislation the Child Rights Law. This law defined a child as anyone under the age of 18. It allows employment starting at 14 years of age. It prohibits all violence against children. The law also guarantees fundamental and unconditional right to register at birth.
Myanmar is a party to the Convention to the Rights of the Child as of 1991. Myanmar’s passage of this law is supposedly in accordance with the CRC. The CRC states that children have the right to acquire nationality and citizenship and ensures that no child is stateless. Article 19 prevents children from suffering physical or mental violence or any type of other abuse and countries should adopt measures accordingly. CRC Article 32 states that children have a right to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing work that is hazardous or interferes with education.
The recent legislation has been applauded by several NGO’s including UNICEF. However, there was opposition in Myanmar to the law. The main opposition came from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USPD) and nationalists who expressed objection to the possibility that Muslim children in the Rakhine would be adopted and be given citizenship.
While many other children in Myanmar will benefit from this new law, the Rohingya children will not. There are three notable reasons for this. First, the 1982 citizenship law, which renders the Rohingya stateless and categorizes them as “foreigners.” Therefore, not only will Rohingya children remain stateless, but there is no guarantee that children who are born once the law goes into effect will be given any possibility of citizenship.
Second, while the prohibition against all forms of violence against children is in line with all other existing treaties besides the CRC, Myanmar has taken no steps to combat the human trafficking of Rohingya men, women, and children. Human trafficking has been documented in the US Trafficking in Persons report for several years and no urgency has been given to the situation despite the fact that it impacts children. Further, Myanmar also has taken no steps to hold the military accountable for the 2017 violence which was directed at babies and children. The surviving children have been scarred and require mental health counselling. More importantly, Rohingya children have no access to education in Myanmar.
Finally, for the children who are still in Myanmar and are residing in the internal displacement camps or appropriately titled, concentration camps, what or who has ensured their rights are enforced? These children have no access to justice. One day when the Rohingya are able to go back home to the Rakhine, what opportunities will await them as a result of living in an apartheid system? Many will need to take care of themselves as they are now orphaned as a result of the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated in 2017. Of course, the ongoing genocide does not alleviate any concerns either.
NGO’s and the international community should be quick to call Myanmar’s bluff on their sincerity in passing laws that benefit some children, but not all. Myanmar claims that it is following the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations, perhaps to alleviate United Nations concerns that it is not following those recommendations. Words are cheap.
The UN CRC team should be given complete access to the Rakhine region to evaluate what the current situation is for Rohingya children, who also are children that are entitled to and have protections under the CRC. This form of discrimination flies in the face of the spirit and letter of the law the CRC was created for.