Cherubic with round faces and streaks of thanaka across their cheeks, the children of Myanmar can be shy and curious like children across the world are. However, unlike children anywhere else Myanmar’s children start really early. To work. In a country whose natural wealth has been plundered by the military rule for about 50 years, its citizens have had it hard. The economy is in tatters and the crushing poverty among its populace forces parents to send their children to work to supplement the family income.
From waitressing at restaurants to hawking knick knacks across tourist attractions, children in Myanmar can be found in various places working hard to make money so their families don’t starve. They are subjected to hard labor though I did not find any instance of their managers / minders being rude to them. Notwithstanding the kindness of their masters, it is heartbreaking to note that these children are dropping out of school with no future in sight or a guaranteed income other than the measly wage they are paid as a result of their hard labor.
Media across the world has been paying attention to the child labor issue in Myanmar but with very limited success. Read this Huffington Post story on child labor in the booming construction industry of the country. According to this NPR report that quotes U.N., a third of the country’s children have jobs. Another report titled, ‘Child labor is declining worldwide, but it’s thriving in Myanmar’ in the Foreign Policy magazine is self-explanatory.
During my trip across Myanmar, I found numerous instances of child labor. I found children working in restaurants wiping tables / serving dishes, hawking souvenirs around temples, plucking peanuts in fields and tilling the land. It’s a depressing state of affairs and there is probably very little one can do about the issue in a country that is still partially ruled by military. But these children are still pictures of innocence. They are beautiful, heart breakingly so. Cliches be damned.
The extremely little
These are the babies. Those chubby faces and perky mischievousness know very little that they will be put in school and pulled out of it very soon so as to assist in the family’s income. Nevertheless, for now, they are cute as buttons.
The school goers
Many children seem to only finish primary schools. They are pulled out of their schools soon enough they can manage a day job, as it were. But they are cheerful when they go to and come back from schools as I witnessed.
The shy and curious
Step into a village that is not frequented by tourists and you will be surrounded by these children. They haven’t seen a camera in their lives. Nor have they seen a soul that is not their villager visiting them. Each one of them is photogenic and they seem to know it as they confidently stare into the camera.
The unfortunate teens
You can find them selling postcards in and around pagodas frequented by tourists. To them, postcards are still relevant because their world is full of them as stocks, waiting to be sold to make money. You can also find them tracing designs on lacquerware trays and other utensils. One entrepreneurial fellow even sold me a bunch of hand-drawn postcards he made with his crayons.
The hard laborers
They till land to make patches for vegetable plantations or glean peanut plants after the year’s harvest. They are the least fortunate among the lot for their work involves hard, physical labor. And no child should be forced to do that.
I am ending this year on a poignant note with this post. I have had a good year and I have very little to complain about (if at all, I have to). I hope each one of you have had a wonderful year as well. I wish you all a great 2015 ahead. Stay safe. Stay well. Leave a comment wishing me a good year and telling me what your travel (and general) plans for 2015 are. I would love to hear from you.