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CHANGE BEGINS WITH CHILDREN

n old proverb in Myanmar says that, Children are our most precious treasure. UNICEF in Myanmar embraces this ethos in its work, striving to further the rights of the nations children

and youth to survival, development, protection and participation. Myanmar is a land of enormous potential, with resilient, resourceful people who want to improve their lives and the lives of their children. UNICEF works with families, communities and other care providers to help give children the best possible start in life through programs that immunize children from disease, enhance their nutrition, protect them from HIV/AIDS, provide them with a better quality basic education and safe drinking water, and protect them from abuse, exploitation and violence. Today UNICEF and its partners are making progress in helping more of Myanmars children live, grow, develop and attain their dreams.

Despite this progress, many children in Myanmar still face poverty, disease, malnutrition, the threat of HIV/AIDS, a lack of access to clean drinking water and low primary school completion rates, all of which impede their opportunities for growth and development. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Myanmar ratified in 1991, provides that the best interests of children should be considered in all actions potentially affecting their lives. With the best interests of Myanmars children at the forefront of its endeavors, UNICEF will continue working with its partners in Myanmar to improve the lives of the countrys women, children and youth.

MYANMAR: A COUNTRY OF CONTRASTS

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Thailand.

yanmar is one of Southeast Asias largest nations, with a population of more than 52 million people. With 135 different ethnic groups calling Myanmar home, it is also one

of the worlds most diverse countries, with a rich history and panoply of cultural and religious traditions. Myanmar is a geographically diverse country, boasting fertile tropical deltas in the south and a rugged landscape in the Himalayan foothills of the north. The country is situated along the Bay of Bengal, and shares borders with Bangladesh, China, India, the Lao PDR and

Approximately 70% of Myanmars people live in the countryside, and most rural families make their living from farming. While the country is rich in natural resources, the per capita gross national income has been estimated to be only US$ 220 a year. Long-standing conflicts have exacerbated the challenges that many families face. Public sector investments and expenditures in most program areas in which UNICEF works, such as education and health, are extremely low. Myanmar also has one of the lowest per capita overseas development assistance (ODA) rates in Southeast Asia. Current internal and international investment levels are not sufficient to provide all of the nations children with an education, healthcare and other basic social services. Because of its size and diversity, there are disparities between children living in different areas of Myanmar in terms of access to basic health services, clean water and adequate sanitation facilities, malnutrition rates, primary school enrollment and completion rates, and protective services. UNICEF works with many partners to address these disparities and to try to provide basic services to all of the countrys children.

UNICEFS COMMITMENT TO MYANMARS CHILDREN

NICEF has been working in Myanmar continuously since

1950. Despite difficult political and economic circumstances, UNICEF helped to successfully initiate programs to protect

children against smallpox, leprosy and yaws. Over time, UNICEF expanded its programs to support the development of rural health services, basic education for children, and community water supply and sanitation systems. More recently, UNICEF has supported HIV/

AIDS prevention, early childhood development, and child protection programs. UNICEF also advocated for Myanmars accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the government ratified in the 1990s. Today UNICEF supports some programs (such as immunization) throughout the country, while it supports other programs (such as malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention) primarily in high-risk areas of Myanmar. Wherever it can, UNICEF supports an integrated package of health, education, water supply and sanitation interventions as it now does in 61 of Myanmars most vulnerable townships. UNICEF has field officers positioned throughout the country to enhance implementation and ensure that the assistance it provides reaches those children and women for whom it is intended. The overriding goal of UNICEFs current program in Myanmar is to protect and further childrens rights to survival, development, protection and participation. Recognizing that the wellbeing of children is closely linked to the health and wellbeing of their mothers, UNICEF also works to help women in Myanmar realize these fundamental rights.

CHILDREN IN MYANMAR

oday in Myanmar, some inroads are being made in advancing childrens rights and improving the provision of basic social services for children. Nevertheless,

disparities remain pronounced throughout the country, with children and women in remote areas often being particularly underserved. While progress has been made in improving childrens health through child immunization and nutrition initiatives, Myanmar continues to have high infant and under-five mortality rates, with 50% of all child deaths attributable to preventable causes. One in three children under five years of age are still malnourished, and youth are particularly vulnerable to HIV/ AIDS. Although water and sanitation coverage has substantially increased in recent years, many households still lack access to safe water and sanitary facilities, and water-born diseases remain a major killer of children under five years of age throughout the country. Parasite infections resulting from impure water are exacerbating child and infant malnutrition, and poor sanitary conditions are providing breeding grounds for disease. Today, primary school enrollment rates are high and more schools are being constructed. However, less than half of all children in Myanmar currently complete primary school. Many school expenses must be borne by students families, presenting an insurmountable financial obstacle for many impoverished households. Classroom facilities are often poor and under-equipped, and attrition rates among teachers are high due to low pay, poor working conditions and long separations from their families.

In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the importance of child protection initiatives. Nevertheless, high primary school dropout rates and widespread poverty have had the effect of rendering large numbers of Myanmars children and youth vulnerable to various forms of exploitation. Many children are employed in factories, teashops and other business enterprises where they work long hours under arduous conditions, for very little pay. Other children take to the streets to beg, some run afoul of the law, and others are conscripted despite national laws prohibiting this practice. Many of these children are vulnerable to trafficking, and many trafficked children and women are forced to work in the commercial sex industry. Despite these challenges, there is reason for hope. UNICEF in Myanmar is working with its partners to help children and their families surmount the problems that they face, and more fully realize their rights to health, education, equality and protection.

HOW UNICEF MAKES A DIFFERENCE

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hile numerous impediments still stand in the way of

Myanmars children fully realizing their rights, progress is being made in certain areas:

UNICEF and its partners have successfully protected children from many deadly diseases, improved their access to healthcare and essential drugs, and enhanced their mental and physical development through UNICEFs Health and Nutrition program.

UNICEF and its partners have empowered more youth, mothers and members of vulnerable groups to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS, and have ensured that more people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS are given the care and support they need through its HIV/AIDS program.

UNICEF and its partners have helped more children attend daycare and preschool, helped improve the quality of care being provided to these children, helped more primary school children receive a quality education, and helped ensure that children are being taught fundamental life skills in the classroom through its Education program.

UNICEF and its partners have increased childrens access to safe drinking water and sanitary facilities, and have ensured that more children in disadvantaged areas are being taught safe hygiene habits through its Water and Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene program.

UNICEF and its partners have also helped protect women and children from trafficking, exploitation and abuse and have helped improve national laws protecting children through its Child Protection program.

Today, UNICEF works with its partners in Myanmar to help women, children and youth survive, develop and thrive by:
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Helping them stay healthy and well-nourished; Protecting them from HIV/AIDS; Providing children with a quality basic primary education; Expanding access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities; and Protecting children from exploitation and abuse.

HELPING CHILDREN STAY HEALTHY AND WELL-NOURISHED

against deadly childhood diseases by:


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f children are not healthy and well-nourished, they cannot realize many of their basic rights. One way UNICEF works to keep Myanmar children healthy is by immunizing children

Providing approximately 90% of the vaccines used to inoculate children in Myanmar against the six major vaccine-preventable diseases (tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and measles);

Supporting routine immunization campaigns and expanding immunization coverage in hard-to-reach areas;

Providing equipment to ensure that vaccines retain their potency; and

Introducing Hepatitis B vaccines in routine immunization programs (to prevent liver disease).

UNICEF also keeps women and children healthy by improving the quality and availability of health services. UNICEF does this by:
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Training rural health center staff in the integrated management of maternal and childhood illnesses;

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Increasing access to essential drugs; Ensuring the availability of standard and emergency obstetric care facilities in township hospitals; and

Reducing the prevalence of malaria through the provision of bed nets and diagnostic equipment, and by supporting public awareness and treatment activities.

UNICEF strives to reduce child and maternal malnutrition by:


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Increasing mothers awareness of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for their children during the first six months of life;

Supplying the majority of vitamin A capsules to children nationwide to prevent blindness and strengthen childrens immune systems;

Supplying 50% of all potassium iodate nationwide to support salt iodization, which prevents iodine deficiency disorders and mental retardation; and

Providing iron supplements to pregnant and lactating women to prevent anemia.

PROTECTING CHILDREN AND WOMEN FROM HIV/AIDS

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services. AIDS by:
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IV/AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate in Myanmar. The

disease has now spread to the general population, with more mothers and children becoming infected with the virus. Only a

small proportion of those infected with HIV/AIDS are aware of this fact, due in part to a lack of voluntary, confidential testing and counseling

UNICEF works to prevent women, children and youth from contracting HIV/AIDS and supports persons infected with, and affected by, HIV/

Working with partners to strengthen the national policy response to the epidemic;

Increasing adolescents access to information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases;

Providing children and youth both in and out of school with life skills training to help them develop the knowledge and abilities they need to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS;

Preventing the mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS by encouraging voluntary testing and counseling for pregnant women;

Improving the capacity of health staff to treat people infected with HIV/AIDS;

Providing home-based care and support services for people infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS; and

Targeting particularly vulnerable groups such as migrant families, ethnic groups and the poor with a full range of prevention and support services.

PROVIDING CHILDREN WITH A QUALITY BASIC EDUCATION

ducation is a key factor in providing Myanmars children with opportunities for growth, development and advancement. Since the learning and development process begins

the day a child is born, UNICEF works to help families and caregivers meet the psychosocial, intellectual and physical needs of infants and children up to five years of age. To these ends, UNICEF strives to foster early childhood development by:

Providing a range of support to preschools and daycare centers; Training parents, caregivers and teachers in early childhood development and child-centered play methodologies; and

Providing learning materials, toys and other basic support to community-based play and child development programs.

Another way UNICEF helps provide children with a quality basic education is through its support of child- friendly schools. UNICEF encourages more children to attend school and works to improve the quality of education in primary schools in some of the nations most disadvantaged townships by:
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Training teachers in participatory, child-centered teaching and learning methods; Providing basic school supplies for children to defray educational costs; Equipping schools with safe drinking water facilities and latrines; Training Parent-Teacher Association members on how to become more involved in their childrens education; and Providing roofing sheets for schools in traditionally disadvantaged communities.

UNICEF also helps children and youth acquire essential life skills such as critical thinking, decision making and problem solving by:
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Supporting life skills courses in teacher training colleges throughout the country; Training teachers in participatory, student-centered teaching and learning methods; and Fostering the active participation of students, teachers, parents and community members in life skills activities.

ENSURING ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION FACILITIES

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hildren who are deprived of clean drinking water and a sanitary environment face very real threats to their health and survival. To better ensure childrens right to survive and thrive, UNICEF in

Myanmar works to ensure access to clean and safe water by: Installing safe drinking water supply systems in schools, health centers and communities; and Ensuring better water quality by testing for arsenic and other contaminants in groundwater and introducing mitigation activities as needed.

UNICEF ensures access to adequate sanitation facilities by:


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Providing support for the construction of sanitary latrines in schools and communities; and

Encouraging national and community support of latrine construction through its support of National Sanitation Weeks.

In addition to these activities, UNICEF also promotes hygiene education by:


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Supporting the teaching of personal hygiene in schools through the provision of activity-based teaching manuals, learning/game materials and demonstration models; and

Supporting National Sanitation Weeks, which involve the promotion of hand washing and other basic hygienic measures in the national media and in communities.

PROTECTING CHILDREN AND WOMEN FROM EXPLOITATION

cared for and protected from harm, to better protect children and women from trafficking and various forms of exploitation, and to better address the needs of displaced children and their families. UNICEF works to protect children and women from exploitation, abuse and neglect by:
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oday in Myanmar there is an evolving recognition that

additional measures are needed to better ensure that orphaned, institutionalized and homeless children are properly

Raising awareness among community members and community-based organizations about means of preventing abuse, exploitation, trafficking and neglect; Providing education, vocational training and recreation activities for vulnerable children and youth, including street children and working children;

Providing technical assistance to further improve the juvenile justice system and protect children in conflict with the law pursuant to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards;

Strengthening communities and institutional caregivers capacity to assist children deprived of parental care; and

Working with partners and communities to facilitate the return, protection and reintegration of displaced, trafficked and exploited children and women.

OUR PARTNERS

throughout the country. Working together, UNICEF and its partners strive to help Myanmars children realize their fundamental rights. UNICEFs partners include:
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NICEF works with a full range of partners in Myanmar, and

it is UNICEFs partners that play the vital role of actually implementing its program activities in communities

National technical departments, including health professionals, nutritionists, educators, water and sanitation experts and social workers; Local non-governmental organizations, including faithbased organizations; International non-governmental organizations; Community groups, including Parent-Teacher Associations; and

Other members of the UN family in Myanmar.

Since UNICEF is funded exclusively by voluntary contributions, donors are also a crucial component of its work in Myanmar. UNICEF activities are funded by governments, the private sector and individuals around the globe who support its work through National Committees for UNICEF. Major donors include the governments of Japan, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden, as well as the European Commission and UNICEF National Committees in Japan, the United States and Australia.

THE WAY FORWARD

NICEF in Myanmar is committed to the advancement

of childrens fundamental rights. With an eye to the future, UNICEF will continue to extend basic lifesaving

assistance to more underserved areas, expand ongoing program activities in disadvantaged communities, support and empower communities and strongly advocate for the rights of all of Myanmars women and children. UNICEFs future objectives include helping to ensure that every child in Myanmar is immunized against deadly diseases, that maternal and neonatal tetanus are eliminated, that child malaria rates are reduced, that the majority of pregnant women receive information on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, that more child-friendly preschools and daycare centers are established, that more children have access to clean water and sanitary facilities, and that more families and communities are empowered to protect children from abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The road ahead is challenging, but not insurmountable. Myanmars people possess an indomitable spirit, and a determined resolve to create a world where future generations of children can grow up healthy, well-educated and protected from harm.

UNICEF in Myanmar Communication Section 6th Floor, Yangon International Hotel 330, Ahlone Road, Dagon Township Yangon, Myanmar Phone: 95-1-212086/87/90/91 Fax: 95-1-212063 E-mail: unicef.yangon@unicef.org Website: http://www.unicef.org/myanmar PhotosUNICEF Myanmar/Noorani September 2004