Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Move over, Avengers. The world has a new band of super heroes and they operate out of a small village on Myanmar’s border with Thailand.

Zay and his friends have formed a ChildFund-supported group called the Super Heroes, whose role is to promote children’s rights and help protect children in their village.

“We chose that name because we are the super heroes to protect our village,” says 13-year-old, Zay.

Groups like the Super Heroes are part of a three-year child protection project in Dawei that aims to strengthen community-based child protection systems.

Myanmar has significantly high rates of violence against children. Zarni, who oversees the child protection project in Dawei, says much of this stems from a lack of awareness about children’s rights.

“Physical abuse is prevalent in Dawei,” Zarni says.

“The main reason behind the problem is awareness. There are two parts. The caregivers don’t have the awareness and the children themselves don’t have the awareness.”

The project aims to increase community understanding by conducting sessions about children’s rights and child protection, delivering pamphlets, and setting up posters and billboards.

ChildFund also provides communities with a list of relevant child protection service providers so people know who to contact when they witness or experience violence or abuse.

“It’s effective,” Zarni says. “There are more informants than before. And there are more identified child cases than before.”

In order to strengthen these community-based child protection mechanisms, Child Protection Groups (CPG) and Child Groups (CG) are formed in the target villages.

The Government of the Lao PDR has announced a renewed focus on addressing violence against children, after a national survey showed more than a third of children in the developing country faced some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Laos Deputy Prime Minister Sonxay Siphanhdone (pictured above with youth who participated in the country’s first children’s forum) last Thursday urged the Lao Government, the public, and the private sector to work together to implement stronger child protection and participation systems.

The government’s renewed focus also comes after an inaugural National Children’s Forum was held in Vientiane in May, which revealed children in Laos lacked opportunities and the resources including online safety and sexual and reproductive health information, to help them identify and reduce the risks of violence.

The three-day forum, facilitated by ChildFund Laos and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provided a space for 90 children across three provinces to voice their needs and share the key challenges they faced on a variety of issues, including violence and abuse.

The Lao Government’s renewed commitment to addressing violence against children has been applauded by the Australian ambassador to Laos, Jean-Bernard Carrasco.

“I am very proud the Australian Government has been able to support the Lao Government in this process, by contributing funding to the national survey,” he said this week in Vientiane, at an event celebrating International Children’s Day.

“I am pleased to acknowledge that both Australia and Laos have recognised children have the same human rights as adults, but that they also require special protection due to their vulnerability.

“Nowhere is protecting the rights of children more important than in Laos, where it is estimated that over 40 per cent of the population are under the age of 18.”