Six months since the military coup in Myanmar, the situation for families is worsening as a wave of COVID-19 rages across the country and children are unable to access medical care and education, Save the Children warns.
Save the Children said many children in Myanmar may lose caregivers as the death toll from COVID-19 is rising rapidly and the rate of positive testing, reportedly over 37%, ranks among the highest in the world – even though positive cases and deaths are severely underreported.
So far more than a million children around the world have lost a parent to COVID-19, and a total of 1.5 million have lost either a parent, a grandparent who helped care for them or some other relative responsible for their care, according to a study published in The Lancet this month.
In Myanmar, the health system has virtually collapsed since the coup began on February 1 and vaccinations remain largely unavailable in a country wracked by disease, poverty and violence.
Entire families are falling sick with COVID-19, with family members desperately struggling to access treatment, medicine, emergency oxygen and other medical supplies that are in short supply for relatives and friends, while prices have skyrocketed.
In the absence of sufficient health care options and threatened by violence, pregnant women are being forced to give birth under appalling circumstances, including while hiding in the jungle from armed soldiers.
Children killed and detained
According to the UN, 75 children have been killed since the coup began, though the actual number of fatalities is thought to be much higher. More than a third of these deaths were of children aged under 16. The youngest was an 18-month-year-old girl, who was killed when a military vehicle hit her father’s motorbike after he refused to stop while taking her to hospital.
At least 104 children, some as young as seven, remain in detention, many in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, where a serious outbreak of COVID-19 has been reported. Last month, a 17-year-old boy reported that he was tortured almost to death while being held in an interrogation centre. On 24 May, two boys, aged 15 and 17, were sentenced to death by the courts after they were accused of killing a pro-military informer. Their cases have since been referred to the juvenile court where they are again awaiting sentencing.
In addition to those killed or injured, Save the Children is concerned that countless more children are being deprived of essential medical care and education amid the surge in COVID-19 cases which is devastating the country. Regular vaccination campaigns for children have also stalled, and nearly 1 million children have been unable to receive essential vaccinations in Myanmar since the coup (UN).
The economic situation of many families is growing increasingly desperate. A survey by Save the Children among nearly 1,500 households across seven regions found the crisis was affecting the ability of about 75% of households to meet basic needs. About 34% of respondents reported a total loss of income in the months after the coup. The World Bank predicts an 18% drop in GDP this year, while ILO estimates that 2.2 million jobs have been lost since the start of the year.
Save the Children said:
“Soon after the coup six months ago we spoke of a ‘nightmare scenario’ unfolding. That scenario is now playing out before our eyes and it is far worse than we could have predicted. Not only have children witnessed and experienced violence and horror that no child should ever see, but they are now also losing caregivers and family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is rapidly plummeting the country further into chaos. The complex and by now chronic crisis is taking a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of millions of people, including many children.
“Save the Children calls for an end to the violence in Myanmar and a strong, coordinated and decisive effort by the international community to help address the ongoing crisis, especially the COVID-19 situation. Both the UN Security Council and ASEAN have no more time to lose when it comes to Myanmar. ASEAN should urgently take action during its upcoming formal meeting on August 2. The bloc must do everything it can to make sure that violations against people in the country cease, including against children, and find a regional solution to this crisis.
“People in Myanmar are showing admirable resilience and strength, but they cannot weather this perfect storm on their own. Help is urgently needed.”
Please note that we are still not doing interviews, but for more information please contact:
Emily Wight, Emily.Wight@savethechildren.org;
Charlotte Rose, Charlotte.Rose@savethechildren.org;
Out of hours (BST), firstname.lastname@example.org / +44(0)7831 650409