Violence intensifies in Myanmar as at least 150,000 children forced from their homes in the year since military coup

One year since the Myanmar military seized power in a coup, the scale and severity of violence against civilians, including children and humanitarian staff, is escalating, Save the Children said today. In the past two weeks alone, children have been killed in several bombings and raids by the military in Kayah state[i] and Sagaing region[ii] [iii] [iv], including the bombing of a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kayah. In the past year, at least 150,000 children have been forced to flee their homes[v].

The UN Security Council must find ways to address the crisis and protect children from violence, attacks and displacement in Myanmar, the child rights organisation said.

Recent UN figures show at least 405,700 people have fled their homes due to fighting within Myanmar since the military seized power almost a year ago, with that figure increasing by 27% in just the past month. Of the total number of people displaced across Myanmar, an estimated 37% are children[vi], many of whom are living outside in the jungle under makeshift shelters and vulnerable to hunger, illness and protection risks, the aid organisation said.

Violence has particularly intensified in the southeastern state of Kayah in recent months, where last week two teenage sisters were among those killed in the bombing of an IDP camp. Recent UN figures show 91,400 people in Kayah state have fled their homes since February 2021, but local reports earlier this year said the more accurate figure is much higher – more than half its 300,000 population.

Thawdar*, 14, had to flee her village in Kayah and is now sheltering in an IDP camp. She remembers the scorching sun and the sound of gunfire on the day she fled.

She said: “When I was working on harvesting corn in the field, my aunt came and told us that we also need to flee as we heard the weapons loudly. It was urgent and we couldn’t take so many things. My mother packed some clothes, pots and plates. Then, we left our home.

“I was so worried and thinking on the journey, ‘What if weapons hit us?’ I have always been afraid of the soldiers, and I pray they don’t reach the camp. I never want to hear the sound of heavy weapons again.”

Thawdar*, her family and others in the camp rely on food donated by Save the Children and other local charities to survive.

Thawdar’s* mother Daw Merry*, 36, who has four children, said she constantly worries about meals and insecurity. She said: “If we do not have enough food to eat, what should we do? Sometimes I feel sad when I don’t have money to buy medicines or snacks my children want.”

Kayah state was also the site of an attack on at least 35 civilians, including four children and two Save the Children staff members late last year. The aid workers, both young fathers who were passionate about children’s education, were on their way back to their office after working on a humanitarian response in a nearby community when they were caught up in the attack.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said: “Yet again we are seeing children bear the brunt of conflict. Over the past year, a shocking 150,000 children have been displaced across Myanmar. That’s 150,000 children who are separated from their friends, their schools, and their homes.

“Children and their families are fleeing because they have no choice, and we are seeing them forced to hide out in jungles and forests and living in terrible conditions. Save the Children teams are doing what they can to provide urgent assistance, but they have very little access to food, clean water and healthcare, let alone education. Children on the move are at heightened risk of trafficking, abuse, recruitment into armed groups, injury and death. Last week’s horrific attack on an IDP camp shows that children in Myanmar are caught between a rock and a hard place.

“The Myanmar military, as well as all other armed actors, must uphold International Humanitarian Law, protect children and keep them out of harm’s way, and provide unhindered humanitarian access.”

Prior to the coup, there were already 370,000 people displaced across the country, including tens of thousands of Rohingya children living in detention-like camps in Rakhine state. The situation for them and the nearly 500,000 Rohingya children and their families who have fled into Bangladesh remains fragile. The brutal tactics employed by the military in Myanmar are reminiscent of the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in 2017, according to Save the Children.

Inger Ashing said: “UN Security Council members must deliver on their shared responsibility to address the unfolding crisis in Myanmar.

“Member states must impose an arms embargo, with a focus on limiting the kinds of airstrikes we’ve seen recently. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) must also convene on an urgent meeting to review and action the ‘Five Point Consensus’ agreed in April 2021, which calls for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and for the ASEAN Special Envoy to help mediate a diplomatic solution. These steps are vital to protect children, their communities and humanitarian aid workers.”

Save the Children has been working in Myanmar since 1995, providing life-saving healthcare, food, education and child protection programmes through more than 50 partners and 900 staff across the country. Save the Children has now resumed the majority of its programmes across Myanmar following the attack on 24 December 2021, and staff remain fully committed to helping the most vulnerable children in Myanmar, especially during this time of conflict and crisis.

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