Myanmar: Obama visit a chance to boost reforms

Myanmar’s government has shown an increased commitment to protecting children from trafficking and exploitation and addressing ongoing challenges in health, education, and economic development.

By James Addis, World Vision U.S.
Published November 17, 2012 at 12:00am PST

President Barack Obama will visit Myanmar next week following a series of democratic reforms in the country after years of military rule.

It will be the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited Myanmar. President Obama arrives November 19.

‘Good news for hundreds of thousands of children’

In recent months, Myanmar President Thein Sein has released hundreds of political prisoners. Other reforms include holding elections (observed by international monitors), relaxing press censorship, and improving labor laws, which has allowed workers to form unions and secure more favorable working conditions.

Meanwhile, World Vision has partnered with the U.N. special representative on children and armed conflict and the Myanmar government to formulate an action plan to end Myanmar’s recruitment of child soldiers. The action plan also includes provisions for community-based prevention activities, as well as family re-integration of existing child soldiers.

Western governments have responded to the various reforms by easing sanctions and opening up opportunities for trade.

Chris Herink, World Vision’s national director for Myanmar, says the government has also shown an increased commitment to address ongoing challenges in health, education, and economic development in struggling communities.

“The government has increased its budget for health and education, and this is good news for the hundreds of thousands of children we work with here,” he says.

Anti-trafficking efforts improve

Another area of improvement is in combatting human trafficking, whereby impoverished citizens seeking opportunities in neighboring countries are coerced into prostitution or other forms of forced labor.

In June, the U.S. State Department issued its annual “Trafficking in Persons ” report. Myanmar progressed from a “tier three” ranking (countries that fail to meet minimum anti-trafficking standards and are failing to make any efforts to do so) to the “tier two watch list” (countries that fail to meet anti-trafficking standards but are making efforts to improve).

Jesse Eaves, World Vision’s senior policy advisor for child protection, says that Myanmar’s increased opportunities for trade following recent reforms give President Obama an opening to support progress on trafficking and forced migration.

World Vision runs an extensive anti-trafficking program in Myanmar. The work includes educating communities about the risks posed by traffickers and how to avoid them; providing counseling for those abused by traffickers; and, when possible, re-integrating individuals back into their communities.     

The organization also runs development projects in 11 of the 14 states in Myanmar, helping to improve the health, education, agricultural production, and economic prospects of impoverished communities.

How you can help

Pray for children in Myanmar. Pray that they would gain increased access to critical resources for a healthy life, such as as healthcare and education, and that efforts to protect children from trafficking and exploitation would be successful.

Contact your senators and voice your support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This legislation helps protect those vulnerable to trafficking, supports trafficking survivors, and gives law-enforcement agencies the tools to prosecute traffickers. The bill positions the United States as a global leader in the fight against modern-day slavery.

Make a one-time donation to help provide hope for sexually exploited girls. In places like Myanmar, your gift will help prevent abuse and help restore physical and spiritual health to formerly exploited girls by providing interventions like safe shelter, medical care, nutritious food, vocational training, compassionate counseling, and, when possible, re-integration with a loving family.