A compulsory middle school education for all children in Burma would help to eradicate child labour in the country, several educational experts have said.
Such a school system, free but mandatory for all children up to grade eight – usually 13 to 14 years of age – would reduce the likelihood of children being recruited to work in tea shops, agriculture, construction projects or other forms of labour currently common in Burma, they said.
Though primary school education is both free and compulsory in Burma, middle school (junior high) is free of cost, but not mandatory.
Children should receive a free public education for no less than nine years, said Thu Thu Mar from the National Network for Education.
“The new Education Law requires all children to attend primary school,” she said. “But the law requires that this is extended step-by-step until we have a system whereby kids cannot drop out of school until they finish middle school. This will help stop the recruitment of child soldiers and child labourers.”
Parliamentarian Nyo Nyo Thin said free and compulsory education should be a long-term goal and that the government must tackle the increasing number of school drop-outs due to poverty.
“It is the duty of the state to offer education as a basic human right,” she said. “Children are currently obliged to go to primary school; we want that requirement to extend to a middle school education.”
Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor, which is due to roll-out Internet and telephone networks across Burma starting in September, announced on Thursday that it has discovered cases of underage labour in its supply chain.
In a corporate webcast, Telenor said it had uncovered three situations where a total of six underage workers were employed by the group’s partners or sub-contractors, and that it had taken steps to remove the young people from the sites.
“We have a strict policy on underage labour,” Telenor spokesperson Hanne Knudsen told DVB on Friday. “All our partners in Myanmar [Burma] sign the Supplier Conduct Principles, which states that nobody under 15 years will be employed directly or indirectly for Telenor business. This is in line with recognised international ILO [International Labour Organization] conventions. Additionally, Telenor Group has defined the age requirement for tower construction sites as a minimum of 18 years as we consider some aspects of work on construction sites as potentially hazardous.”
Selim Benaissa, the chief technical advisor for ILO’s Myanmar Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, confirmed to DVB on Monday that Burma has ratified ILO conventions that bar children from being involved in hazardous work.
“Myanmar ratified ILO Convention 182 in December 2013 and therefore has to develop a hazardous list of work to be prohibited [for those] under 18 (including exceptions for the 16-17 age group),” he said.
“It is crucial to keep in mind that the prevention and elimination of child labour is a long process that involves multiple actors of society working in synergies. For foreign companies, who are key actors in this landscape, responsible action should be taken in consideration of the impact it can have on the families and children, in the sense of the additional hardship it can put on the families, as well as potentially resulting in pushing children who are currently employed to more invisible worst forms of child labour. Government, workers, employers and other civil society organizations and individuals – each have an important role to play.”