It has been now been three years since the Burma Army broke a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and unleashed a major new military offensive against the Kachin people.
Since then over 120,000 Kachin people have been forced to flee their homes with over 200 villages being destroyed and many people seeking refuge in internally displaced person (IDP) camps along the Burma-China border.
In his last report to the UN Human Rights Council, Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, detailed concerns about violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, noting that there has been “no progress in tackling the impunity under which the military forces currently operate”. Under this impunity the Burma Army have carried out continual human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
This week also saw the release of the Fortify Rights report “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar, which chronicles the torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of more than 60 civilians by members of the Burma Army, Military Intelligence and Police Force. These abuses were part of a systematic attack against the civilian population with the backing of the state.
The children we work with in Kachin State witness this situation on a daily basis. The Early Childhood Development programme we provide in the IDP camps around Laiza and in outlying camps on the Burma-China border is specifically designed for children who have experienced this kind of trauma, helping them to make sense of what they’ve experienced, and move forward.
As this Monday marked the third anniversary of the resumption of war against the Kachin people, 55 concerned groups and organisations around the world, including Children on the Edge signed a statement calling for peace. The document contained various recommendations urging the Government of Burma to end the violence, allow access for humanitarian aid, to respect international human rights law and to both protect and compensate displaced people.
The statement also called on the international community to establish a full investigation into the use of rape and sexual violence and urged the People’s Republic of China to respect the right of refugees. Full details of the statement can be found at Burma Campaign UK.
Find out more about our work with displaced Kachin children in Burma, and consider donating to the project.
Children on the Edge brings an essential child-focussed approach to children displaced by conflict.
Since the breakdown of a ceasefire between Burma’s central government and ethnic Kachin rebels in June 2011, sporadic fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people in northern Burma. Children in the internally displaced camps have suffered trauma from the violence they have witnessed, many have been separated from their parents and nearly all have inability to access basic services and resources, such as food and education.
A recent article by the Irrawaddy has highlighted that although various aid groups are getting through to the IDP camps near Laiza to deliver resources, that the educational needs of the children are not being fully met. During one of the Irrawaddy’s recent visits to a camp, they described how ‘a UN truck arrived at the camp, unloading school textbooks, mosquito nets and solar panels…Some children eyed the textbooks with interest, but few here find camp life to be conducive to furthering their education”.
Children on the Edge focus on 12 outlying, higher altitude settlements, which are not currently being reached by the larger organisations. After a full consultation with local groups and a thorough needs assessment, we have partnered with local organisations, the Kachin Development Group and the Kachin Women’s Association to develop a three year program that supports the physical and psychosocial needs of 1,440 children, through 12 Learning Centres.
This work is carefully planned in order to, not only provide educational materials, but to implement an Early Childhood Development curriculum, together with teacher training. Its approach recognises how unlikely it is that these children will automatically slot back the learning styles they were familiar with in their own homes. It also takes into account that a purely academic focus is inadequate for children who have lived in a war zone for an extended period of time. Components are specifically designed for children who have experienced trauma.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager describes how crucial a child-friendly approach is in these circumstances: “The effects of neglect in these formative years can be cumulative and lasting. Young children who experience extreme stress are at greater risk of developing cognitive, behavioural or emotional difficulties”.
The Centres are safe places with a trusted adult presence, where children aged 3-6 can access early childhood education and creative play. The aim is to allow these children to simply enjoy being children, in a vibrant place, for a few hours a day and provide them the opportunity to mature into healthy, stable young people.
Find out more about our work in Kachin State.
Attacks resume in Kachin State, Burma, as we step up our work with displaced children
On 30 January 2014, reports from Free Burma Rangers stated that Burma Army troops attacked Nam Gau Village in Kachin State, Burma, firing at and capturing 18 villagers. The fighting worsened the following day, with reinforced Burma army troops attacking an additional village to the south with heavy mortar and machine gun fire.
Most residents of both villages had already fled due to a previous attack in November, now nearly all remaining families have fled, despite attempts by the Kachin Independence Army to defend the area.
The backdrop of the current attacks is the breaking of a 17 year long ceasefire in 2011 between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, the ensuing conflict has taken thousands of lives and forced over 100,000 Kachin people from their homes. They are now living in crowded camps, often cut off from aid and essential services.
Confined within these camps are thousands of Kachin children who cope in very difficult circumstances with very little support for their healthy development. Many of these children, in particular those under the age of 6, have known nothing else but war, with daily life offering little escape from the effects of violence and conflict. These children have no access to psychosocial support.
After the atrocities stepped up, in June 2012 Children on the Edge were able to deliver vital aid (warm clothes, strategic nutrition and toys) to displaced children on the border near China.
As part of this work we conducted a consultation with local groups and a thorough needs assessment. As a result, through partnerships with the Kachin Women’s Organisation and the Kachin Development Group we are providing Early Childhood Development to 1440 children in outlying internally displaced settlements.
Although some aid and support has got through to more accessible areas around Laiza, there are 12 higher altitude camps in the northern part of the state that are still cut off. We are focussing on these areas. As well as establishing 12 child friendly Centres for displaced and traumatised Kachin children, we have created a full programme of Early Childhood Development with a robust curriculum.
The aim is to allow Kachin children who have known nothing but conflict for the past two years, to simply enjoy being children in a vibrant safe place for a few hours a day and provide them the opportunity to mature into healthy, stable young people.
As these recent attacks have made apparent, the problems in Kachin State are not abating. To respond to these needs, alongside the development of 12 Centres, we will be building a training programme for 72 teachers from the IDP camps, with a particular focus on developing child friendly techniques and expertise with children who have experienced trauma.
Find out more about the situation from the latest Human Rights Watch Report, and please consider donating to our work here.
We reported a few weeks back on our research in Kachin State, Burma. The article highlighted the problems involved in getting aid to displaced communities along the China-Burma border, as conflict escalated between the Kachin people and the central government military.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has recently returned from this area where he spoke with representatives from the camps. He concluded that despite the fact the political situation in Kachin State is highly complex, that the humanitarian issue is simple. Sufficient aid is not getting through to those civillians who are caught up in the conflict and who need it most.
Since then we have received a list of essential supplies needed by the camps, acquired funding and found an aid route through. We will be providing warm clothes, strategic nutrition and toys for the displaced children in the camps.
Although play equipment may seem like a luxury item in these circumstances, it is essential for the emotional wellbeing of children caught up in conflict. Children in Kachin State have their identity entwined very closely with the war around them. They are constantly playing guns and bombs, not because of the influence of a television set, but from what they are actually seeing around them on a daily basis. Simple play equipment is essential for creating childhood games and imaginary realities that promote a healthy psychological wellbeing for a child living through conflict.
A second visit is planned later in the Spring to assess longer term needs.
Find out more about our work with refugees and internally displaced people from Burma, and consider donating to our work.
Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma and is bordered by China to the north and east. Historical tensions between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese Government have recently intensified, placing civilians at huge risk.
A 17-year ceasefire was broken by Burmese troops in June 2011 and since then conflicts have taken thousands of lives and forced over 100,000 Kachin people from their homes. Much of the fighting has happened in areas rich in natural resources, and stretches of land where large infrastructure projects are taking place.
President Thein Sein’s administration insists that it wants a ceasefire and political discussion, yet over Christmas the government troops started to use heavy artillery, jets and helicopter gunships. Heavy shelling attacks near civilians are now a daily occurrence. Displaced people in the crowded camps are not only terrified, but cut off from aid.
Since the atrocities stepped up in June, Children on the Edge have been researching the situation in Kachin State and talking with local groups to find a way of getting aid to displaced children on the borders near China. With attacks escalating over Christmas, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has brought forward his trip to Kachin State in order to talk with local communities before the situation worsens further. This last week based from the town of Laiza, he has witnessed intensifying conflict including Government jet fighters and helicopters firing on civilian populations. Laiza has become a ghost town with people fleeing for their lives and mortars landing 2km outside of town.
The UN conservatively estimates that more than 10,000 internally displaced people are not receiving sufficient, regular humanitarian assistance. Aid is being restricted to all KIO controlled areas by the Burmese government, so this fact finding mission aims to find a way for Children on the Edge to work under the radar to get aid to displaced communities through our connection with grassroots local partners.
For a recent report on the increased attacks see BBC footage from the conflict zone in Kachin State. For further information about our current work with refugee children from Burma, visit our project pages.