Blog post by Tual Sawn Khai, a PhD Fellow in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Graduate Studies, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
Myanmar holds one of the world’s longest ongoing civil wars since its independence in 1948. Before the 2021 Myanmar coup d’état, there were about 505,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar due to armed conflict and natural disasters as of December 2020. Many IDPs live in precarious circumstances, with no proper access to education for internally displaced children to shape their future dreams. Some ethnic armed organizations, such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Karen National Union (KNU), operate schools for internally displaced children in their liberated areas. However, graduate students face challenges to continue higher education in the government, recognize universities and barriers to get a job because those schools are not officially accredited or recognized by national and international education departments.
Moreover, the coup d’état, carried out by the Myanmar military, has exacerbated more uncertainty for the education of internally displaced children as the army launched heavy weapons and airstrikes on IDPs’ school buildings and IDP camps, prompting IDPs to flee to the border of neighbouring countries such as India, Thailand and China. Moreover, the military has killed over 948 civilians, detained 5,502, and issued a warrant to 1,984 people since February 1, 2021. Besides, the United Nations estimated at least 230,000 civilians have been displaced by the recent intensified armed conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups. Some IDPs crossed the national border and sought refuge in India and Thailand; however, both countries denied providing protection and forced them to return to Myanmar by deploying border security to prevent IDP from entering their territory. Most IDPs are children, women, and the elderly, although no reliable statistics are available.
Six months after the 2021 Myanmar coup d’état, the coup leader declared himself Prime Minister and extended the state of emergency until 2023. It appears that the country’s political turmoil scenario would significantly deteriorate in the next future with possible another enormous displacement. Furthermore, unless the political crisis is resolved and the country is at peace, there is no doubt that IDPs will be free to return to their mother school to shape their future dreams. Principle 23 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement states that “every human being has the right to education”. The state has the primary obligation and responsibility to provide education to displaced persons. Moreover, all children have the right to get universal and quality education according to Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. However, little concern has been raised nationally and globally about children’s education in IDP camps and their future prospects.
In that regard, I consulted with some IDPs about how the military coup has affected their education and prospects for the future through local non-governmental organizations referrals. Internally displaced parents lamented that the pandemic and the military coup stopped their children’s schooling, directly affecting their children’s mental health and academic development. Moreover, they were distraught that their children would get married before reaching the age of consent without education, knowledge and skills.
“If we continue to live in this circumstance, our children’s future will be miserable. I have a daughter; I am worried she might get married early. I want my children to get an education first. I do not know when my children can be back to school. At the movement, I am frightened to return home till Myanmar is at peace”. One internally displaced woman
Moreover, another internally displaced parent lamented for the uncertain future of his children in this way:
Children and young people in IDP camps have no future. They will get no experience for their future development here besides suffering and adversity. I am worried, and I do not want our children to grow up without receiving a decent education as their parents did.
The internally displaced children expressed that they want peace in the country. If there is peace, other people in the country will not be forcibly displaced from their homes in the same circumstances they were in now.
Since my childhood, I envisioned becoming a lawyer because I rarely see a lawyer in my community and regions. I dream of completing matriculation examinations at my age of 16, but the school has been closed for almost two years since the epidemic. Now, the military coup and conflict force me to flee from home into the jungle. All of my hopes and plans have vanished, and they will never come true under the military dictatorship. One internally displaced child
Similarly, another internally displaced child also shares her feelings:
I want to study medicine after completing my matriculation. Now, I am disappointed since my dreams have vanished and cannot be realized in this current circumstance. I often worry that all of my hard work from kindergarten to Grade 9 was for nought because I cannot return home and continue studying under the military regime.
The military coup has devastated the education, learning and dreams of children in Myanmar who will be the country leaders tomorrow. The internally displaced children in Myanmar run for their lives, whereas children in other nations prepare for the future by attending school or participating in hybrid learning.
This coup d’état has also exacerbated food insecurity across the country. Some internally displaced parents expressed concern about the future of some children who work on opium farms to earn a living in Kachin State near the Chinese border. The World Food Programme has already warned that 3.4 million people will be hungry by March 2021. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme has already projected that 12 million people would live under national poverty by 2020, potentially increasing to 25 million if the political turmoil is not resolved immediately. Meanwhile, the military has blocked all humanitarian assistance, including the one coming from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which has made IDPs significantly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, the international community must urgently take collective action to stop military human rights violations to its people and to restore democracy and peace in Myanmar. Failure to respond to the military inhumanity action and intervene in humanitarian relief may result thousands of children, particularly among internally displaced children, into forced labour, child soldier, human trafficking, and early marriage.
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