UN: Myanmar’s war leaves 6 million children in need

Cut off from food, medicine and education, children bear the brunt of grown-ups’ war.
By RFA Burmese
2024.01.03
UN: Myanmar’s war leaves 6 million children in need Displaced children who fled their homes due to fighting in Myanmar’s Kayah state eat a meal, Apr. 10, 2022.
Karenni State IDP Assistance Network

As conflict rages on in Myanmar’s northwestern Chin state, a mother who lives in the conflict area struggles to find food and medicine for her children.

“When there are fights like this, I worry that my children will be harmed,” she told RFA Burmese on condition of anonymity for security reasons. 

“Even if you have money, you can’t buy anything because roads are being blocked. That’s why I’m worried that I won’t be able to feed my children,” she said. “I’m worried about something that will happen to them because I can’t do anything for them.”

Their story is common in Myanmar these days as a result of fighting that has raged since the February 2021 coup, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.  

“Three years on from the military takeover, the humanitarian landscape for 2024 is grim with a third of the population – 18.6 million people – now estimated to be in humanitarian need,” OCHA said in its recently published Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan for Myanmar.

“Children are bearing the brunt of the crisis with 6 million children in need as a result of displacement, interrupted health-care and education, food insecurity and malnutrition, and protection risks including forced recruitment and mental distress.”

Hungry children

For the mother in Chin state, the chaos has meant an interruption in not only regular supplies of food, it has also meant that routine vaccinations have stopped for her children.

Another mother, from Shan state in the east, expressed similar concerns for her three children. They currently live at an internally displaced persons’ camp in Hseni township.

“In terms of food, in the refugee camp, we were only fed two meals a day, and the children were hungry at noon,” she said. “The situation is like that. And in terms of living, I don’t have to stay at home. I feel that it is not safe for the children because we have to live in dormitories or under tarps.”

Whenever they hear the sound of airplanes, her children get scared and they have been suffering psychological trauma, she said.

ENG_BUR_MalnourishedChildren_01032024.2.jpg
Children take cover in southern Shan state’s La Ei village on Jan. 10, 2023, as a Myanmar junta military aircraft flies overhead. (Union of Karenni State Youth)

A person helping displaced people in northern Shan state said that children are being affected by the fighting all over the region.

“They have difficulties accessing education,” the helper said. “Children, especially, suffer from severe emotional distress. Some under-aged children were recruited [to fight], and some have even been killed and wounded in the conflict. Nobody can work because battles are raging everywhere. So there is no food security.”

He said that he would like to ask armed organizations not to recruit the children, especially minors.

Since malnutrition in a child can affect the mental, emotional, and physical well-being, this problem must be dealt with urgently, Lwan Wai, a Yangon-based member of the Civil Disobedience Movement Medical Network, told RFA.

“After the coup, it has become much worse,” said Lwan Wai. “Malnutrition of children affects both their physical and mental health, and it will hugely affect their brain development and thinking ability when they become adults. That’s why this is an issue that must be dealt with urgently in our country. This is very important.”

In UNOCHA’s humanitarian fund proposal for 2024 released on Dec. 11, it stated that $994 million in funding is needed to reach Myanmar’s 5.3 million people with food, water, shelter, health care and protection.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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