Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma and is bordered by China to the north and east. The Kachin people are an ethnic minority in Burma, a highland indigenous people with rich traditions.
Historical tensions between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese Government have intensified in the last six years, placing civilians at huge risk.
A 17-year ceasefire was broken by Burmese troops in June 2011 and the ensuing conflict not only took thousands of lives, but forced over 120,000 Kachin people from their homes into around 165 internally displaced people's (IDP) camps.
Heavy shelling near civilian populations was commonplace and women reported many incidents of systematic rape by the Burmese Army. Human Rights Watch reported government soldiers blocking needed humanitarian aid, torching villages and firing on innocent civilians and Fortify Rights have extensive evidence of systematic torture being used as an attack on civilians.
These abuses constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Those Kachin now living in the crowded IDP camps are terrified, cut off from vital aid and still subject to military attack.
As central government appears determined to crush this last remaining pocket of wide-spread armed resistance in Burma, their recent tactics have been increasingly harsh. With significant natural resources and political influence at stake, the human tragedy is worsening again and largely ignored by the international community.
Thousands of Kachin children are forced to cope in very difficult circumstances with little support for their healthy development. Many of these children, in particular those under the age of 6 have known little else but war, with daily life offering few chances of respite from the effects of violence and conflict. They have no access to education, creative play and psychosocial support.
What we are doing to help
In an initial 2012 consultation with local groups we found that, although some aid and support had got through to more accessible areas around Laiza, there were 12 higher altitude camps in the northern part of the state that were still cut off.
As a result, through partnerships with the Kachin Women’s Organisation and the Kachin Development Group we are now supporting 14 Early Childhood Development Centres for 629 displaced Kachin children in these outlying internally displaced settlements. As part of this provision we have created a full programme of Early Childhood Development with a robust curriculum and full training available for teachers.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children who are displaced are very likely to be disorientated having lost much that is familiar in their everyday surroundings and relationships. Their survival, well being and development are dependent on and built around close relationships.
To promote and re-build this sense of well being and stability, this programme provides a safe place for young children to go to every day, where they meet their peers and interact with safe, reliable and professional adults.
The aim is to allow Kachin children who have known nothing but conflict, to simply enjoy being children in a vibrant, caring place for a few hours a day and give them the opportunity to mature into healthy, stable young people.
In the northern camps of Kachin state there is not a single other international organisation offering ongoing support of any kind. As the area remains an active war zone, access to the camps is difficult. We remain committed to supporting Kachin communities in helping their children to grow and develop in spite of the daily realities of war.
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