2011 Intern Reflects on CRC's Concluding Observations on Burma

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Children in Burma: Dominant Burmese Narrative Fails to Capture Ongoing Rights Violations by the Burmese Government – Lane Krainyk

Lane is a third year law student at the Faculty and was an IHRP intern with the Burma Lawyer’s Council in 2011.  While interning, he assisted in drafting a shadow report which was submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The dominant narrative on Burma in recent months has focused on advances that have been made by the Burmese government with respect to the democratic rights of its citizens. Even critics of the government have expressed optimism that these developments will lead to increased protections for political rights and freedoms and will decrease the influence wielded by the military leaders that have dominated Burma for decades.

This narrative, however, fails to capture ongoing human rights violations by the Burmese government. In reality, many people in Burma continue to have their fundamental human rights violated by the government. The ongoing violence being perpetrated against the people of Kachin state, forcing thousands to flee their homes as villages such as Nam Sam Yang are burned to the ground, is but one example of the government’s continued disregard for the rights of its citizens.

Another example of the government’s unwillingness to protect the rights of its citizens can be found in its treatment of children. On the whole, the Burmese government has failed in meeting its international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was the conclusion reached by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in March of this year.

Burma is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every seven years, signatories to this Convention come up for review by the Committee. In the run-up to Burma’s 2012 review, the Committee accepted shadow reports from multiple organizations working on Burmese issues. These reports highlighted issues such as the use of child soldiers, forced labour, insufficient protections for children in domestic law and ongoing exploitation of children throughout Burma. One report, submitted by the Child Rights Forum, included a portion on legal issues that was drafted primarily by the Burma Lawyers’ Council.

In early 2012, the Burmese government made its own submissions. It was then left to the Committee to make its “Concluding Observations” on the status of children in Burma.

The Committee made a number of significant observations that reflected the submissions made in various shadow reports submitted to the Committee. In particular, the Committee adopted a number of the concerns and recommendations that had been raised in the Burma Lawyers’ Council’s submission:

  • First, the Committee noted that the Burmese government has failed to extend protections for children in domestic law to all children under the age of 18. As a result, not all children can benefit from protections aimed at preventing exploitation and trafficking.
  • Similarly, the Committee noted significant gaps in existing legislation that have the effect of depriving non-citizens residing in Burma, including Rohingya children, the rights afforded by the Convention. Consequently, stateless children are not protected under Burmese domestic laws.
  • Third, the Committee pointed to the government’s failure to make requisite changes to its juvenile justice system. Among the implications of this failure is that children continue to be imprisoned alongside adults, exposing them to increased risks of violence and exploitation.
  • Fourth, the Committee noted that the fundamental rights of children, including freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly, continue to be disregarded by the Burmese government.

Taken as a whole, the Committee’s findings make it clear that the Burmese government has fallen far short of meeting its international obligations with respect to the Convention. The government’s failures have left Burma’s vulnerable youth at a greatly heightened risk of exploitation. 

Of course it is important that the international community welcomes changes in Burma. The inclusion of the opposition NLD and its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (who attended at parliament for the first time as an elected politician on Monday, July 9th) in Burma’s political scene and increasing freedom of speech and mobility rights are examples of long-awaited changes that will have positive implications for the Burmese population. However, this optimism must be tempered by the real challenges that continue to be faced by many in Burma. It is important for human rights advocates and supporters of the pro-democracy movement to remain vigilant in assessing the Burmese government’s treatment of all those residing within the country’s borders and its obligations under international law.

The Committee’s full report can be found here.