For the people of Burma – Myanmar, dire poverty, conflict, and persecution have compelled millions to uproot their families, moving within Myanmar and across international borders.
Many Myanmar people have fled their homeland to seek a better life across the eastern border in Thailand. In doing so, they take their children with them and grow their families on Thai soil. Without legal status, however, these children are vulnerable to abuses and are faced with many difficulties from early in life. Of the one million stateless children estimated to be living in Thailand, two-thirds are thought to be children whose parents are from Burma – Myanmar.
The Thai government has made efforts to improve the lives of its 2-3 million low-skilled migrants. People from Myanmar likely constitute the vast majority of the total—we know that of the approximately 1.4mn who are officially registered, 82 percent are from Myanmar. The government has mandated that Thai hospitals issue a birth certificate conferring official recognition to every infant born in their hospitals; the Thai Ministry of Education issued a resolution in 2005 allowing all children into state schools regardless of citizenship or registration status. Yet, in practice, many hospitals do not register infants born to undocumented migrant mothers and the babies remain stateless; in practice, the number of Myanmar migrant children in Thai schools remains low despite the 2005 resolution, as local Thai authorities and Myanmar migrant communities alike do not have proper knowledge about the law or do not trust the information that has filtered down to them.
There is much to be done to secure stronger rights and a brighter future for Myanmar peoples in Thailand. Myanmar is among the least developed nations in the world, and it will take many years of prudent economic openings before it can offer its people the same level of opportunity as neighboring prosperous Thailand. Even with the positive political developments in Myanmar, until the economy really grows, Myanmar people will continue looking to Thailand for a better future.
That’s why our team at Partners Asia works with dedicated local community leaders who are organizing Myanmar communities in Thailand to tackle those challenges impeding their communities’ futures. Improving access to education for their children is one of these key challenges. Lacking legal status, these children are at higher risk of child labor, are more likely to be swept into the sex trade at an early age, and face barriers to an education that could help them secure higher-skilled and better-paid employment later in their lives. Keeping kids in school not only provides them with knowledge they need to be productive members of modern society, but also gives them language and cultural skills they need to work and prosper in Thailand. Should they choose to return to Myanmar, adults educated in Thai schools could end up as the managers of Thai factories there, helping their countrymen negotiate better pay and conditions.
While many of our partners’ projects ostensibly revolve around education, the work they do ultimately involves entire communities and reaches beyond classrooms and textbooks. In communities with which Partners Asia works, organizing children’s educational projects also opens the way for parents to learn about their children’s rights and their own. Education can release migrant children from the trap of poor employment opportunities and a dis-empowered status in Thailand; but our partners’ projects also change communities by making its members realize that they are not wholly without rights or power to effect positive change in their own lives.
For examples of the amazing community-initiated and locally led work that our team at Partners Asia supports, please visit: