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Faces of Burma's Refugee: Children Behind the Prison Bars
by Rohingya Human Rights
2008-03-16 09:04:15
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On Feb 14, 2008, Saw Yan Naing of the Irrawaddy News ran a report along with the accompanying AFP picture of some children of Burma standing behind bars with other detainees in a crowded detention cell in Mae Sot, Thailand, saying that thirty-one Burmese illegal migrants - including three children and 18 women - were arrested by Thai police on Feb 12 after smugglers transported them to Ranong Province in Thailand. (Source)

Burmese children stand behind bars with other detainees in a crowded detention cell in Mae Sot, ThailandIt is not a question whether to put these children in a crowded detention centre is legal or illegal - but the point that raises a grave concern at the first sight is - why these children are there. Everybody knows, Burma is burning. About 57.6 million people of this resource-rich country of 678,500 sq. km are groaning in the reign of terror of unbroken military rule for nearly half a century. The military rulers have burnt down the hopes and aspirations of tens of thousands of people into ashes. Hundreds of men, women and children run everyday to neighboring countries either to escape the brutalities of the army or to get rid of hunger. They do not know what awaits their fate in exile. But everyday they flee their motherland, which has been turned into an earthly hell under the gun control.

They know, their journey to the unknown destination is full of dangers ranging from starvation, thirst, detention, drowning or death, but the flow of escape of these distressed human beings continues unabated in search of safety and food. Sometimes, these ill-fated men, women and children cross the border in heavily loaded cargo boats of smugglers and sometimes in the tank of oil transport trailer without having a fresh air or water or food. There are innumerable cases of tragic deaths of those fleeing people onboard due to the lack of food and water in the deep sea after being adrift for many days or weeks due to the failure of engine boat or due to the loss of travelling direction.

In a free world, childhood connotes happiness and innocence. A child brings endless bliss and joy for a family and a ray of hope for a nation. Children are considered there as the future of a nation. There are enough mechanisms in a free world for children to let them grow spiritually, materially and physically so that they can become worthy citizens of a country. If they are healthy, if all of them receive education and live within a comfortable and safe environment, these elements will indicate that a nation has progressed.

Children need a world where they can laugh, they can play and they can grow with all qualities which make a worthy citizen of a country and when grown up, they can bring peace and prosperity for themselves, for their family, for their society or for their country. They need to live in a world where their voices are being heard. They need a world which is fit for children from all aspects and where all children will have the same rights and are of equal worth, where every child will have the right to have his or her basic needs fulfilled, where every child will have the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and where every child will have the right to express his or her opinion and to be respected.

In fact, these are the things which have been codified into different international laws or conventions. Through, the ratification of 1989 UN Convention on Rights of the Child, the international community agreed that some basic rights of children must be guaranteed. It is a very comprehensive document with regard to every aspect of rights of a child. The core of the Convention is described in Article 3: " In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare organisations, courts, administrative authorities, or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary concern."

The above paragraph demonstrates that all agencies of the state and private sectors must consider and accord priority to the interests of the child. Although the Convention does not define the interests of a child, it indirectly indicates that a child should have an upbringing in an environment in which a child can develop his/her full potentials in adult life. Common sense dictates that the fundamental interests of a child lie in the right to nutritious food, shelter, primary health care and education. If all these aspects of a child are cared for, the child will emerge as a worthy citizen.

But the faces of these children in the picture stir a sense of extreme helplessness. It makes clear that they are the children of a country which is not fit for children to lead a normal life. In fact, Burma is a country where innumerable children are living in a state of utmost miseries, cruelties and inhumanity. In other words, it is the grinding militarism which has pushed them to the worst level of wretched life - a situation which has compelled them to be illegal immigrants or break the law or whatever.

The rights of children are interconnected with economic progress of a country. So long a country is riddled with political unrest, social anarchy and grinding poverty, abuse of rights of children will turn out to be a common phenomenon. These children are from Burma where they are deprived of the very basic rights. Most of the children live there through an ordeal that is devoid of an iota of bliss. They get no scope for positive learning experiences they need to grow up happy and confident.

In Burma, there is no environment where the majority of parents can feed their children at home or where there is no "right to food to live" as literally can be said. Whenever people in extreme hopelessness and despair, facing nothing but repression, try to get themselves out of this situation, the military rulers strike them from all directions. They have destroyed the livelihoods of the majority of people in Burma. Only a handful that are close to the military regime and others who take part in keeping the machinery of repression alive obtain some benefit from the situation. Together with destitution, destruction of livelihoods and widespread poverty there has also been the destruction of the entire political system and the administration of justice.

It is a country where there is no scope for majority of parents to safeguard the rights of the children even within the purview of the family. Their parents can not save them from starvation and can not find ways for medical treatment when they are sick. The cases of associating children with baby food and innocent smiles are a matter of rarity there. Children die at the lap of their parents due to hunger and malnutrition. The tears of the parents roll down the cheek seeing their crying children, battered and bruised, physically and emotionally, every other day, but they have no way to prevent it.

While the people in the state organs of the military rulers do everything to protect their own children, they do not consider those of the common people as human beings. And at the same time, they kept no door open for the common people to let them know how to raise, not to mention care for, their children. From being made to sit on the floor at school in many cases as semi-human beings, to being punished or beaten inhumanly, children get the raw end of every deal. The mechanisms which can sow the seeds of inspiration in the minds of the children have been devastated.

People go to the zoo to find entertainment looking at the animals in the cage and they do not usually feel sorry for the animals for being put in the cage. But here the case is a little bit different. These children are in the same type of cages like zoo. But people who see their faces feel sorry and there may be many of those whose hearts bleed to see the plight of these children who have been chained by a set of law which determined them as illegal immigrants. Children who are considered to be the hope for a safer world, have been pushed to a state where they can not laugh, can not sing or can not play.

Only time can speak when these children can return to a position where they can fall asleep in the lap of their mothers in peace and without fear, where they will find a place which they can call their home, where they will get a school where they will learn all the lessons of civilized human society, where they will get a world which will be free of terror or screams of traumatized human beings and where they will find a world as has been portrayed by the English Poet William Blake in his poem "A Cradle Song":

A Cradle Song

Sweet dreams form a shade,
O'er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams

Sweet sleep with soft down.
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night,
Hover over my delight.
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes,
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep sleep happy child,
All creation slept and smil'd.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep.
While o'er thee thy mother weep

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee.
Thy maker lay and wept for me

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

.............................. .............................. ............

Ahmedur Rahman Farooq, Chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council (RHRC). Address: 2975, Vang i Valdres, Norway . Media Contact:+4797413036 Email: rohingyas.rhrc@yahoo.com, rohingyas.rhrc@gmail.com

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Saifuddin2008-03-16 12:35:25
It is very... very impressive article.

AP2008-03-16 13:50:53
Once again the question arises: where are the United Nations now, what is the international community and diplomacy doing while such dreadful policies are put into practice??! Civil action is certainly needed.

Maung Hla2008-03-17 00:39:29
It is a very pathetic story.

Kyi Aung2008-03-17 14:56:46
This article gives a real picture of the plight of children of Burma. The writer deserves special thanks for this moving story.

Erik Young2010-07-28 19:27:44
The protocol of some consular offices in Thailand is to do nothing.
There is a general silence when you confront some officers of Bangkok based Embassies.

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