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Burmese Children Faces Educational And Health Care Crisis - 2003-08-08


Burmese government is jeopardizing the future of an entire generation, with children being denied educational opportunities and basic health care, an international labor union said in a report.

The Belgium-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said the ``catastrophic economic situation' in Burma, forced the ``vast majority' of parents to rely on their children to work to help support their families.

"The worst forms of child labor whether in the army, the construction industry, domestic work, the mines or elsewhere are present throughout Burma," it said.

The 30-page report, "Growing up under the Burmese dictatorship," was released to coincide with Friday's 15th anniversary of a Myanmar military crackdown that killed thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators, many of them students.

"For hundreds of thousands of Burmese children...access to a school and good health care will remain a dream unless and until the military regime...radically changes its policy," the report said.

ICTFU represents 158 million workers in affiliated organizations in 150 countries and territories, but it does not directly represent any workers in Myanmar, where trade unions are illegal.

Burmese government officials were not available for comment.

The report said the number of schools, facilities and teachers is grossly inadequate. "All too often schools use textbooks dating back to the 50s or 60s." Some 35 percent of primary teachers are unqualified, it said.

Although education is free by law, more than half the children in Burma have to pay for night courses to keep up, adding to the financial burden on already poor parents, it said.

In 1998-99, only 7 percent of Burma's state budget was spent on education while 50 percent was for the military, ICTFU said, citing a UNICEF report from 2001.

The union said the health situation is no better, with most premature deaths arising from a lack of medical attention and an inability by health care workers to fight diseases like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea, tuberculosis and AIDS. Citing UNICEF, it said the mortality rate among children under-five is high at 106 per 1000.

"The decrepit state of the education and public health systems is directly responsible and could be prevented if the (junta) devoted the necessary funds to them rather than squandering public money on military expenses," the report said.

The report's authors interviewed dozens of people including parents, children, teachers, doctors, trade unionists and representatives of non-governmental organizations in Burma and neighboring Thailand, ICTFU said.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current junta came to power after the Aug. 8, 1988, crackdown.

Information for this report is provided by AP

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