Myanmar’s alarming increase in the number of orphans

Myanmar's alarming increase in the number of orphans

Two infants just months old lie on a creaking and squeaking bamboo floor. Around them, the sound of other small children and lullabies can be heard.

Chit Saing Wai and Khin Nan Wai are the names of the twins, who are ten months old.

Their parents did not name them; they were adopted by Buddhist monks from the Myo Set Thit Parahita (New Generation) Monastery in Htein Nga Pin village, Htantabin township, just outside Yangon.

Myanmar's alarming increase in the number of orphans

Nobody knows who their parents are. They were discovered abandoned in the undergrowth a few days after birth and would have perished if not for kind passersby who brought them to the monastery near West Yangon University.

The twins share a monastery with other abandoned children.

Other abandoned children, some still in cradles, surround the twins. While some are carded by monks, others are cared for by women who volunteer to assist the monks. There is no one there who has received formal childcare training.

The orphanage was founded in February 2018 with the intention of caring for 30 children.

It has had to take in 86 orphans, including 18 infants, in less than a year since its founding.

“I look after them because I wonder what would happen to them if I didn’t,” U Dhamma Nanda, a monk with the monatery, explained.

According to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement’s 2018 statistics, Myanmar’s 280 orphanages are home to more than 36,000 orphans. Due to the existence of unregistered orphanages, the actual number of children without parents in the country is likely to be higher.

Myanmar's alarming increase in the number of orphans

Children have the right to live with their parents under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Myanmar’s 1993 Child Law also states that children have the right to live with and be raised by their parents unless doing so would be detrimental to their health.

Children may be separated from their parents only after a court has ruled on a decision made by a responsible person to split the children from their parents for the sake of their safety and well-being.

Chit Saing Wai and Khin Nan Wai were never given that chance due to their parents’ abandonment.

Child abandonment has increased in Myanmar, according to those who care for abandoned children.

Often, children in orphanages are there because their parents have died or because one of their parents is imprisoned, but an increasing number are abandoned. The majority of children abandoned are those born of unwanted pregnancies, out of wedlock, or as a result of rape or incest.

“These days, child abandonment is more prevalent than cases of children becoming orphaned due to their parents’ deaths,” U Dhamma Nanda explained.

“Some people come and hand over children they discover, while mothers come to us to give up their children,” he explained.

He claims that the majority of children abandoned at the monastery are given up by rural students attending urban universities, people working in foreign countries, and some women who became pregnant through someone other than their legitimate spouse.

Since 2013, child abandonment cases have risen, according to Ko Phoe Zaw, another care worker who looks after orphans.

“Poverty has always been a major cause of child abandonment, but it is occurring more frequently these days for other reasons as well,” he explained.

He began caring for orphans in 2004 and now has 130, including more than 50 infants. The children were obtained from individuals who discovered them abandoned or, in some cases, from their biological parents. According to him, some mothers who wish to give up their children schedule meetings with him, while others contact him prior to giving birth.

Ko Phoe Zaw defies a stereotype by stating that the majority of people who abandon their children with him are not from the lower class. He asserts that he attempts to persuade them not to abandon the child but is frequently unsuccessful.

The women frequently cite the same reasons for child abandonment: a lack of parental approval, fear of social criticism, a lack of parenting experience, a desire to remain unburdened and single, and rejection and lack of support from the child’s father. According to Ko Phoe Zaw, the reasons are primarily excuses for not wanting to raise a child.

Christian missionaries established the first orphanages in Myanmar. By 1962, the government had opened two childcare centers, and institutional childcare had begun. Later, registered orphanages were allowed to be established by non-governmental organizations, volunteers, and religious groups.

Myanmar currently has five government-run childcare institutions in Yangon, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Magway, and Kengtung. Shwegondine Childcare Centre is one of the government orphanages. It currently houses 57 children, 19 of whom are under the age of a year.

“We used to admit only children six months and older last year, but now we accept even younger infants as the number of orphans continues to rise,” said U Aung Soe, deputy minister for Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement.

Myanmar's alarming increase in the number of orphans

On April 18, last year, a central committee for orphan reduction and protection was established under the auspices of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Committee. It was comprised of officials from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Rescue and Resettlement, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health and Sports. It intends to open offices in every state and region, he added.

The committee’s efforts have resulted in the construction of a three-story building in Nay Pyi Taw to care for children in the administrative capital, the deputy minister said.

The government’s care facilities do not readily accept easily abandoned infants. The centers accept only those who have been examined by government hospitals and identified as orphans by government administrative agencies.

“We used to admit only children six months and older last year, but now we accept even younger infants as the number of orphans continues to rise,” said U Aung Soe, deputy minister for Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement.

On April 18, last year, a central committee for orphan reduction and protection was established under the auspices of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Committee. It was comprised of officials from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Rescue and Resettlement, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health and Sports. It intends to open offices in every state and region, he added.

Myanmar's alarming increase in the number of orphans

The committee’s efforts have resulted in the construction of a three-story building in Nay Pyi Taw to care for children in the administrative capital, the deputy minister said.

The government’s care facilities do not readily accept easily abandoned infants. The centers accept only those who have been examined by government hospitals and identified as orphans by government administrative agencies.

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