Myanmar: Cyclone orphans forced to work

KINETAWASHAE, 31 October 2008 (IRIN) - After losing his parents to the cyclone, Aung Myint Kyaw had no choice but to give up school to help support the cousin who looks after him.

"I don't know what will happen to me," the eight-year-old said in Kinetawashae village, home to 450 inhabitants in Bogale Township in Ayeyarwady Delta, as he scavenged for empty bottles at the roadside.

"Whenever I see my friends in their school uniforms I feel like crying," he said.

Aung Myint Kyaw is one of many orphans who have no choice but to work to buy food or help out a relative who has become the primary caregiver.

Many of the relatives themselves were left destitute by the category four storm.

"My income's not so bad. Some days I can make more than 2,000 kyat [US$2]," claimed Aung Myint Kyaw, who under normal circumstances would be in fourth grade.

But six months on, his chances of returning to school look slim.

Kyaw Kyi, from the same village, wonders how he and his younger brother will survive without parents.

"We will have no choice but to keep doing these menial types of jobs," the nine-year-old said.

They were brought to the village by a monk to do household chores for local residents in return for food and shelter.

Most children, however, are forced into difficult jobs in the fishing and agricultural sector, where they earn less than the minimum wage.

Preventing abuse

In an effort to protect the children from abuse, violation and exploitation, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children, and Myanmar's Department of Social Welfare are working on child-friendly spaces in schools, as well as trying to reunite separated children. They also identify and register the vulnerable children, including the orphans, while providing food, shelter and education.

According to UNICEF, more than 220 orphans, 914 separated children, 302 unaccompanied children, and 454 extremely vulnerable children have been identified.

They have also received 743 missing children reports.

But for those orphans who are being forced by their relatives or carers to work, reaching out can be difficult.

"We believe there are some vulnerable orphans who need to be registered," a Save the Children official said.

"Some orphans are extremely vulnerable in the hands of those who give them food and shelter but make them work hard jobs, which calls for our urgent intervention," she added.

According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment, children could become vulnerable to exploitative or dangerous forms of labour, including as live-in domestic servants, working in the fishing industry, or in some cases being trafficked for labour and sexual exploitation.