Aspiring makeup artist. Medical student. Tik Tok fanatic. Taekwondo champion. Hello Kitty devotee. As the child death toll in Myanmar continues to mount, so does the endless list of ruined dreams and potential.
Since the military coup on 1 February, armed forces have killed 738 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). At least 50 of them were children. (Figures compiled by the AAPP represent the most accurate source of data available).
Like the 10-year-old would-be makeup artist, shot in the head outside her home, all of these children had hopes for a future that will tragically never be realised.
Now, with the violent fallout from the coup potentially escalating into a full-blown humanitarian crisis, the future of every child in Myanmar hangs in the balance. As leaders from ASEAN meet for emergency talks on the crisis on Saturday, Myanmar’s children should be at the forefront of their minds.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Myanmar’s youth. Reports of children as young as six being shot in the head show a complete disregard for human life – not to mention international law and the ASEAN Charter – by armed forces.
Other widespread child rights violations include arbitrary arrests and detentions, with reports of at least 41 children currently being held in detention. Children have seen their friends and siblings murdered in front of them. A whole generation of children is at risk of being traumatized by the violence.
An ongoing banking and economic collapse, combined with year-long school closures and an uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic, threaten access to education, food and healthcare for millions of children. Prior to the coup, more than 1 million people in Myanmar were already in need of humanitarian assistance. As the crisis continues, poverty and malnutrition are expected to surge.
Without urgent action, the crisis in Myanmar also threatens to become a regional crisis. Thousands of refugees from Myanmar have fled into neighbouring Thailand and India already, sparking warnings that a humanitarian emergency could quickly spiral. There is every chance the numbers of refugees and displaced people will rise as the situation in Myanmar worsens, stretching resources in a region already reeling from the economic impact of the pandemic.
The future for children in Myanmar may look bleak, but it doesn’t need to be.
Save the Children will continue to do everything it can on the ground to support children in crisis, but ASEAN leaders must also act urgently to protect the lives and freedom of people in Myanmar and ensure no more lives are lost to this deplorable violence.
Some ASEAN states have come out strongly against the violations in Myanmar, but the bloc is still split on how to move forward. This division has to end and all members must unite in condemnation – politics should never prevent action to save children's lives.
In addition, it is vital that refugees fleeing violence and repression are given safety and protection. For this to happen, ASEAN leaders and other regional governments – with international support – must work together to address the needs of refugees. No one should be pushed back to Myanmar where they are at risk of abuse, and aid agencies must be allowed unfettered access to new arrivals in their countries.
Of course, the only way to protect children in Myanmar is to stop the violence against people altogether and prevent a nationwide humanitarian crisis. Save the Children therefore renews its calls on the military to bring an immediate end to these deadly attacks against protestors, before more children are injured or killed and the futures of many more -- in Myanmar and across the ASEAN region -- are destroyed.
Whether they be our future doctors, social media stars, road workers or sports champions, all children have the right to a bright future. We must do everything we can to protect that.
The writer is regional director of Asia at Save the Children.