Children toil in Myanmar

Children toil in Myanmar

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One in five children in Myanmar aged 10-17 go to work instead of school, according to figures from a census report on employment published last month, and the opening up of the economy since 2011 has triggered a spike on demand for labour.

. Yangon, Myanmar. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

May Win Myint, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) which took power this month, said tackling child labour was one of the party's goals.

"If we cannot solve this problem, there will not be any development in our country because they will be the people serving the country in the future," she said. "They need to be educated to do that."

The first freely elected government since the early 1960s will need to address labour laws that experts say are fragmented and rarely enforced.

. Yangon, Myanmar. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
Nay Htet Lin, a 15-year-old worker, shows a tattoo on his chest that reads his mother's name

Myanmar law bars children under 13 from working in shops or factories, and says teenagers aged 13-15 should not work more than four hours a day, or at night.

"Nobody under 18 should be carrying heavy cargoes," said Vicky Bowman, a former British ambassador who now runs the Yangon-based Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business.

Outside of construction, child labour is most visible in hospitality, with even small children serving food in Myanmar's ubiquitous tea shops. Many children also work in fish farming and processing.

. Yangon, Myanmar. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

At Yangon's San Pya fish market, the country's largest, over two days in February Reuters found girls and boys as young as nine cleaning and processing fish and unloading boats and trucks during 12-hour overnight shifts.

"I don't want my son to do this kind of hard labour," said Hla Myint, 56, whose 15-year-old son works in San Pya.

Speaking from their home in a dilapidated bamboo hut close to the river bank, Hla Myint did not share many of his fellow citizens' high hopes for Suu Kyi's government.

"Whatever they say they would do, or give us, it will never reach here," he said. "I don't believe in any change."

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