FROM THE FOUNDERS

Myanmar’s Youth in Peril

By Daniel Siegfried

Child's Dream 1

THIS IMAGE WAS CREATED BY AI AND FURTHER REFINED BY HUMAN TOUCH.

It has been more than three years since the illegal power grabbing by the Myanmar military, which ousted the democratically elected government on 1 February 2021. It has almost been two years since we had to close our thriving office in Yangon due to security concerns and our colleagues from Myanmar have been calling Mae Sot their new temporary home. While the world’s media attention has been focused on the war in Ukraine and in the Gaza strip, the situation in Myanmar has been deteriorating further without being reported.

As of 29 February 2024, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), 4,611 civilians have been killed, of which 570 were children. 1,662 civilians died while being detained by the Myanmar military. In addition, according to Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) a total of 76,932 houses have been burned down nationwide since the coup started.

It is fair to say that Myanmar became a failed state with a civil war spreading uncontrollably through the country. In October 2023 three ethnic resistance groups joined forces to take control over various military posts in Northern Shan State. In November other ethnic armed organisation in the East and West of the country also mobilised their troops. The Myanmar junta lost over 300 military outpost and vast territories including larger towns. For the first time since the Myanmar military took control of the country in 1962, it looks like it could be defeated. The more the junta feels threatened, the more they indiscriminately target and kill civilians with airstrike or heavy artilleries causing further displacement and extreme humanitarian emergencies.

Our team has been doing a fantastic job day-to-day to maintain our partnerships in the country while providing more support to humanitarian relief and education in emergency. We expect the situation to get even worse as the junta enacted a law to forcefully draft men between 18 – 35 years and women between 18 – 27 years of age into the Myanmar military. There were already reports that the junta forcefully recruited 400 Rohingya youth from internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Tens of thousands of young people will try to escape from such forced recruitment and seek refuge in ethnic controlled areas or in neighboring countries like Thailand or India. This law also gives the junta plenty of opportunities for extortion. Some families were asked to pay as much as USD 3,000 to keep their children away from the junta.

We expect the situation to get even worse as the junta enacted a law to forcefully draft men between 18 – 35 years and women between 18 – 27 years of age into the Myanmar military.

No doubt that this law will further impact our programmes in Myanmar. Almost all of the students and many staff in these programmes are in the concerned age range. We are proactively working with our partners in Myanmar to ensure the safety of all students and staff. Some programmes decided to temporarily suspend their activities as the risk of forced conscription is too high. Some programmes have already indicated that they are considering relocating to Thailand or areas in Myanmar outside of the control of the junta.

The more challenging it is to operate in Myanmar, the higher the needs are for our education programmes. Both our partners and our staff are wholeheartedly determined to do whatever it takes to keep on educating Myanmar’s youth. The country will need them to rebuild itself post-military rule. And since the enforcement of this conscription law not only seems to be a sign of desperation but also further fortifies the resistance to the junta, this might well be the beginning of the end of military rule in Myanmar. However, until this is accomplished, the military will continue to indiscriminately kill civilians and take a whole country hostage. The question is for how much longer?