In 2018, the Global Slavery Index estimated that around 575,000 Burmese live in modern-day slavery, which is equivalent to approximately 11 in every 1,000 people in Myanmar (Burma). Among those, many are children and many are working in hazardous and exploitative conditions – particularly in the solid waste management sector.
The Hlaing Tharyar township is one of the largest in Myanmar, with 200,000 residents living in slums and informal settlements. The population is growing, and with a high number of children caught up in child labour – the Community Support Groups have an important role as advocates and to provide support to the communities.
What are Community Support Groups?
The groups play a vital role in supporting sensitive issues that arise within the community – ranging from community-based child protection incidents, maternal and child nutrition and gender-based violence. Some group members might offer support to mothers or can act as paralegals. Currently, the CSGs are assisting at quarantine centres during the global pandemic. People living within informal settlements and slums are particularly vulnerable to COVID19.
Located in each village and ward in Hlaing Tharyar Township, they work closely with the community to bring in their perspectives and experiences to the local NGOs and INGOs. INGOs such as Terre des Hommes Lausanne, ActionAid Myanmar, Ratana Metta Organisation and World Vision form the Community Support Groups.
The groups are gender-balanced and made up of volunteers meeting regularly to identify what support is needed in the community. They include ordinary people from the community, administrative staff from Hlaing Thar Yar, and other educational staff, businesspeople, money lenders and retired officials. Criteria of membership considerations put the best interest of children at its core and encourages collaboration and teamwork.
The groups have an important role to play for our work in CLARISSA. They are community members and gatekeepers to help us to identify the worst forms of child labour. Some of the group members will also take part in the Action Research Group. They know the community better than anyone, and they also have very specific knowledge of child protection in that context. The groups have been working to protect children for over a decade and have the same goals as CLARISSA to reduce the worst forms of child labour.
Many of the volunteers, however, are experiencing their own struggles and cannot always not attend meetings as they are not remunerated. Yet, when they can, the groups from wards and villages meet to share and exchange experiences.
Bringing the community and CLARISSA together
In relation to CLARISSA, the groups play a very important role as gatekeepers for the work we are doing in the consortium. In Hlaing Thar Yar, the group was involved in the identification and connection of working children during the initial stages of our work in Myanmar. They have been incredibly supportive and keen to support CLARISSA.
Going forward, they will also be involved in the identification of children who are involved in the most exploitative and dangerous child labour for our life stories collection and action research groups.