By Catherine Middleton, Programs & Compliance Officer at International Needs Australia
In the beautiful but remote mountain villages of Myanmar’s Kayin State, decades of conflict left communities isolated and under-resourced. Despite ongoing human rights challenges across Myanmar, these villagers have slowly become more secure, and are eager to improve their circumstances and promote equality between them.
In my work with International Needs Australia (INA), I am privileged to work in partnership with Karen Women’s Empowerment Group (KWEG), working with seven villages in northern Kayin State on child rights and child protection. This project is possible through the support of the Australian Government. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) enables INA to combine donations from the Australian public with Australian aid funding at a 1:5 ratio to extend our projects and reach more people.
The project is focused on improving community structures and their capacity to safeguard children, in line with the objectives of the Australian aid program to promote human rights and child protection. One of the project activities has been the selection and training of local adults in each village to become Child Champions – made up of a nearly 50/50 split between men and women. This mixture ensures the project is engaging men with the responsibility of upholding child rights as well as women.
Child Champions have been trained in child rights, child protection and Myanmar child law to give them a better understanding of their responsibilities, not only as Child Champions but as parents and community members. Child Champions are taking a leading role in organising activities for children in their communities – like supervising a child safe space on Saturdays where children come to play games and sports and read stories together with messages around good values and morals.
Children are being taught about their rights. They know they have a right to be protected by the parents, teachers and village leaders, and that they can go to the Child Champions for support if they have a problem.
An encouraging story I heard from one of our Child Champions was that of a boy in her community who went to her for help. He reported that his teacher had pulled him by the ear and hurt him in an attempt at discipline. The Child Champion went to the school and spoke to the involved teacher, informing them that physical punishment has a negative impact on child wellbeing, that it is illegal for teachers to use corporal punishment and that they should find an alternative way to discipline the children.
Despite a government declaration that teachers must not use corporal punishment in schools, it’s a common occurrence in remote villages, where under-resourced teachers have had no training in alternative discipline techniques. So now KWEG is working with the Department of Education to deliver training to teachers in this area on child rights, child protection and positive discipline.
In the meantime, children and Child Champions will continue to stand up for their rights. This is creating a positive way forward for Kayin children, and will result in them being supportive of child rights in generations to come.
Catherine Middleton is an International Development professional. In her current role of Programs & Compliance Officer at INA, she works with partners in South and East Asia and West Africa on child rights, education and women’s empowerment projects. She studied at Australian Catholic University and Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile) and has Bachelor’s in Arts and Global Studies. She has volunteered with Campaign for Australian Aid, Hogar de Christo and INA, where she has been employed for the last five years. At INA, she has worked in various roles including donor relations, executive assistance, and now compliance and programs support.