After 50 years of economic isolation, observers fear that Myanmar children might be forced to work before they can complete schooling in a booming economy.
The Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, has one of the worst records for child labor of any country. Many children work every day to earn money for their families.
Tun Min is 16 years old. He uses his boat to deliver fish to a market near Yangon. He earns about $8 a day. He hopes his life will one day be better.
“My wish is to become a trader in the fish market. I need some money to become a fish trader. Then, I can earn more money.”
Tun Min left school when he was 12 because his mother was sick and his family needed money. Experts say about twenty percent of children in Myanmar between the ages of 10 and 17 work instead of going to school. They work in factories, tourism and many other businesses. They work in cities and in rural areas.
Foreign investors are helping Myanmar’s economic growth. And with a growing economy there is an increase in the need for workers. Some rights activists say they are worried that children will be forced to work to help keep the economy strong.
May Win Myint works for the National League for Democracy, the country’s leading political party.
“If we cannot solve this problem, there will not be any development in our country because the children will be the people serving the country in the future. They need to be educated to do that.”
Children younger than age 13 are not permitted to work in shops or factories in Myanmar. If they do work, they may only do so for up to four hours a day. But experts say businesses do not obey the law, and the government does not punish them for ignoring it.
Human rights groups and child protection activists want the country to put in place stronger laws and work harder to keep children in school.
Michael Slingsby works for the UN Development Program.
“I think it should be a priority area, but needs to be combined with positive policies. If you try to ban child labor, there's a danger that you drive it underground and people (will) still continue to work very young, but do it in a less open way.”
At the San Pya fish market in Yangon, Reuters news agency observed girls and boys as young as nine cleaning fish and loading trucks during the 12-hour long overnight shifts recently.
Hla Myint has a 15-year-old son working at the market. He said, “I don’t want my son to do this kind of hard labor.”
From the bamboo hut close to the river that he called home, he added, “Whatever they say they would do, or give us, it will never reach here.”
I’m Mario Ritter.
VOA Correspondent Zlatica Hoke reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English, using additional materials from the Reuters news agency. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
underground – adv. in or into a place that is hidden or secret; out of the view of the public