Child Safe Volunteering Hub BLOG – Update – Impacts of COVID-19 on children and the tourism sector in Myanmar
George Paterson – CSV Hub Project Intern 2021
The Child Safe Volunteering Hub (CSV Hub) has met and adapted to the challenges presented by COVID-19 towards children in Myanmar to minimise negative impacts on the global community’s most vulnerable. In June of 2020 we reported that CSV Hub was involved in productive relationships with elements of the Myanmar tourism industry to ensure consistent and meaningful improvements to child protection measures.
Tourism, both volunteering and recreational, is vital to the economic development of nations such as Myanmar and it is equally vital that we foster ethical tourism practises, not least with respect to the treatment of children. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in mass re-patriation of Australian volunteers, leaving very few physically present in key areas. All dimensions of tourism have been severely diminished and the industry remains stagnated.
The CSV Hub has recognised the opportunity presented by lack of tourists to engage with tourism operators with more focus to lay new child protection policy foundations in anticipation of tourism’s revival post-COVID. This includes education programs for international volunteer agencies on responsible and child safe volunteering and how to divest from activities that include operators bringing tourists and volunteers into close contact with children in residential care through walking tours in villages or visiting schools and orphanages and childcare settings. This is meant to minimise incidents of trauma as a result of child policy oversight or harmful practises that damages the social fabric of a developing nation at its roots.
The current state
The adversity facing children in Myanmar is amplified by many points of socio-economic upheavals. In many parts of world, learning has gone relatively undisturbed due to availability of remote tools. As mentioned in the previous article, this is not a viable option for many in Myanmar. Access to many needs and services such as food, medicine, banking, etc, is heavily disrupted with as many as 455,000 children currently considered to be in need of assistance.
Myanmar’s National Vaccine Development Plan (NVDP) is well behind schedule as social unrest in the country continues to escalate with testing rates dropping to just 10% of the peak between June 2020 and February 2021. On top of this, nurses and other healthcare workers are sometimes unable to attend clinics, triages and hospitals due to COVID disruption and social unrest, putting many in Myanmar, including children, at heightened risk of preventable health complications.
Child internal displacement, refugees and trafficking have also displayed a sharp rise as a direct result of both COVID and social unrest as criminal elements take advantage of the ongoing turmoil as a cover for their operations. The primary trafficking corridors are from Myanmar to China, Thailand and India. Social unrest has also led to the collateral incarceration of minors, where social distancing is likely impractical, as Myanmar’s Child Rights Laws (CRLs) are unable to be prioritised under the auspices of curbing violence and maintaining peace.
Myanmar’s telecommunications infrastructure has suffered immensely with major outages occurring across the country. The government had made some progress towards introducing technology integrated learning in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation had been slow. As a result, barriers to online learning are currently very high with the lack of reliable internet access and institutional learning technology adoption prevent displaced, isolated or children preoccupied with immediate welfare concerns from participating in education. Although private smartphone technology ownership has risen from 10% to 90% between 2013-16, the numerous power and communications outages prevent their effective use where public-access technology may have made up the difference.
Major economic downturn continues to batter the country, placing children at immediate risk of malnourishment, exploitation and emotional stress, and long-term risk of intergenerational poverty that will hinder economic development for decades. It is estimated that the tourism industry will not recover fully until 2023.
The CSV Hub is committed to improving the modes in which tourism and economic development programmes are conducted to protect children. To support this, the CSV Hub website provides international and locally sourced resources and information on child safe tourism and volunteering that can be easily accessed and downloaded. The tourism industry is a leading global force for positive change. As a global community we can work together to ensure tourism and volunteering results in recovery through social and economic benefits, without compromising the safety and wellbeing of children and communities.