Malnutrition among children in Myanmar reaching alarming levels

International pressure needed to fight oppressive Burmese regime, says Marc Tarabella.

By Marc Tarabella

Marc Tarabella (BE, S&D) is co-chair of Parliament’s Bureau of the Sports Group

10 Oct 2014

For decades now the Rohingya population of Myanmar have been forced to endure a fate they never chose for themselves. A Muslim ethnic group originating from the Rakhine area, the Rohingya have been persecuted by the Burmese since 1978, with about 200,000 fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh to save their own lives.

After the 1982 citizenship act, the Rohingya people were stripped of their rights as citizens and have since been required to obtain permission to travel within the country, denied the right to own land and are not allowed to have more than two children.

In a recent visit to the country, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee described it as a "deplorable" situation. According to the UN report on the country, the child malnutrition rate, already among the region's highest, has reached unprecedented levels especially in the country's western state of Rakhine, where almost all of the country's 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims are located.

According to the report, more than 140,000 have been trapped in crowded, dirty camps since extremist Buddhist mobs began chasing them from their homes two years ago, killing nearly 280 people. The others are stuck in villages isolated by systematic discrimination, with restrictions on their movement and limited access to food, clean water, education and healthcare.

"More than 140,000 have been trapped in crowded, dirty camps since extremist Buddhist mobs began chasing them from their homes two years ago, killing nearly 280 people"

A 2013 Human Rights Watch report described the situation as one of "ethnic cleansing" and that of "crimes against humanity" being committed against the Rohingya by the ethnic majority. Myanmar's path to democracy, after the fall of the military junta, appears to be backtracking, with concerns mounting over its leadership's commitment to a steady path towards development and progress for all of its people.

Early in February 2014, the situation became even more difficult for the Rohingya after the government expelled the Doctors Without Borders from the country. In March, attacks from extremist Buddhists who claimed that the NGOs were offering preferential treatment to the Muslim minority, lead to other humanitarian groups evacuating the area. Most of the organisations are now back on site, however, their operations have been considerably limited in size.

The government of Myanmar still refuses to recognise the very existence of the minority, prohibiting anyone from using the term 'Rohingya'. Even the Unicef delegation in the country which cited alarming data over the levels of malnutrition among the Rohingya children in the country were criticised for using the term. Earlier in May 2013, the government of Myanmar had pledged to join Unicef's efforts in the fight against child malnutrition by signing the membership letter to join the global 'scaling up nutrition' movement countries.

The EU, along with the rest of the international community, must work with the Burmese government in leading democratic progress and development within Myanmar. The EU has the necessary experience and diplomatic appeal to drive the Burmese society into reforms that will see its people being offered equal protection of law, access to adequate food, healthcare and education for all.

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