The Myanmar Situation

In Yangon alone there are more than 6000 children living in unregistered institutions. These homes are often called orphanages, but about 75%* of these children have a living parent. Myanmar is a big country with more than fifty million people and many different tribes and languages. A big part of the population lives in very remote areas. Although there are schools in most villages, few teachers are willing to live in such remote areas with a low salary. This leaves a lot of villages without an opportunity to provide education for their children locally.

*75% have a living parent is based upon the press release from UNICEF 16 Aug 2010 ( and an earlier released research (A Study of Institutions Caring for Children Deprived of Parental Care Myanmar, 2004/2005) conducted with support from UNICEF and Department of Social Welfare.

The Common Solution

Churches and monasteries have started boarding schools in the cities to provide education for rural areas. Children as young as four years old are sent away from their families to live in these institutions. In most cases, children have little or no contact with their family during their studies. Some forget their mother tongue and many will never return to their village after they finish school. The child on his father’s shoulders on the picture is 5 years old. He is on his way to Yangon to live in one of more than 200 children homes. Starting children homes in the cities have become a common solution to give education to children from rural areas.

How is it to live in these institutions?

According to the Situation Analysis of Children in Myanmar from July 2012,residential facilities generally just meet the basic needs of children in their care, often through the donations of well-wishers. The institutions covered in the 2010–2011 assessment tended to be overcrowded with insufficient funding, clothing, bedding and caregivers.

Read more from the 2012 report here

Children in residential facilities – The low rate of adoption and lack of alternative forms of family-based care leaves many children under the care of various types of institutions. It should be noted that many residential facilities do not primarily cater to orphans. A 2010–2011 Assessment of the Situation of Children in Residential Care Facilities in Myanmar found 12,511 children (1,085 of them aged over 18) in the 147 institutions covered in the assessment. These includ- ed government, private, registered and unregistered institutions. Boys vastly outnumbered girls (9,458 boys and 3,053 girls). Some 44.1 per cent of these children were reported to have both parents alive, challenging theories on the reasons why children are sent to institutions. Around 26.4 per cent of facilities reported that children were brought to them by parents, often at the beginning of the school year, while 31.8 per cent of children were admitted after being brought to the institutions by strangers (including the police and authori- ties). The high percentage of former children in the street and children in contact with the law indicates the practice of taking children from the street to institutions. Government-run facilities for children are far fewer in number than monastic or other faith-based or NGO- run facilities. Across the country, government institutions include: six residential nurseries caring for 237 children up to age 5; nine training schools for boys and girls aged 6–18; two schools for the blind; one for the deaf; and one institute for mentally disabled children. The training schools accommodate a mix of children who are orphaned, wards of the state, children with disabilities, juvenile offenders, victims of abuse and exploitation, those with behavioural problems and street children. Children who have been trafficked to other countries are also required to stay in these facilities for two weeks on their return to Myanmar for vocational training and psychological support. The small number of children in government-run residential care was echoed by the Department of Social Welfare/UNICEF study, showing that in 2010 17,322 children were living in 217 registered residential care facilities, of whom 1,414 were in government centres (figure 38). A total of 92 per cent were living in insti- tutions run mainly by monastic and other faith-based groups (these facilities come under the mandate of the Ministry of Religious Affairs). In addition several non-residential facilities, such as drop-in centres, are operated by national and international agencies. Registration requirements in Myanmar are not clear, not enforced by government agencies, and many people are likely to not know about the existence of them. The total number of children in private unregistered institutions across the country is not known. Residential facilities generally just meet the basic needs of children in their care, often through the donations of well-wishers. The institutions covered in the 2010–2011 assessment tended to be overcrowded with insuf- ficient funding, clothing, bedding and caregivers. Government-run institutions have a managerial board, but this is not the case for religious institutions, and there is limited accountability and oversight of the way in which children are treated. Although several of the institutions included in the assessment of residential facilities said they had a code of conduct, this was rarely known by the children and rarely displayed. Very few facilities kept records of the children in their care; in some of the facilities where records were kept, they were not confiden- tial. Children had very limited opportunity to influence decisions relating to the running of the facilities. The majority of staff (80 per cent) in the institutions covered by the 2010– 2011 assessment were found to be committed to caring for children in difficult circumstances, but there was little understanding of children’s psychosocial needs and how best to meet these (only 41 per cent of staff had received training in child care and development). Play was neither valued nor encouraged (although most institutions allowed one hour for play each day) and the main emphasis was on good behaviour, doing well in school and following religious instruction. In most of the facilities studied, children had daily chores they had to carry out, such as fetching water, sweeping, cleaning and preparing meals. Failure to carry out these duties could result in punishment. In 2007,the Department of Social Welfare, UNICEF and partners jointly developed the Minimum Standards of Care and Protection of Children in Residential Care (completed in 2009). Though approved by the Depart- ment of Social Welfare, the standards have not yet been issued as a directive or disseminated widely. In general, children tend to have little contact with their families once placed in residential care. Families are not encouraged to visit, and parents tend to be confident in the level of care provided as well as unable to visit due to distance and financial constraints. This is significant given that residential care should be a last and temporary resort, and the goal should be to reintegrate children back into the family environment. The situation in Myanmar indicates limited understanding and prioritization of reunification and reintegration of children into the family environment. The 2010–2011 assessment found that 46.3 per cent of the institutions covered actively encouraged or engaged in reintegration activities. Moreover only 20 per cent of children who knew the whereabouts of their families were reported to be allowed to visit them. Reintegration of children from government-run institutions comes under the Department of Social Welfare. For children in contact with the law (alleged offenders, victims and witnesses) who have completed one year in residential care and behaved well during that period, probation officers make field visits to wards, town- ships and families to facilitate reintegration. Between 2005 and 2010, 3,273 children were reintegrated with parents and guardians after a year of residential care.259 For other children in residential care, reintegration is usually only instigated at the request of a child’s parents, and proactive tracing and reintegration rarely oc- curs. The documentation and process required for parents to be reunified with their children is also complex and often unclear, thereby further complicating, delaying or preventing reintegration. There is little preparation of children for the time when they will leave residential care. When children do leave institutions, they have few links to their own communities, and many reportedly remain in the cities to a find job, take on religious work or join the military.



  1. Reginald Vardon

    What is the best way to ship education books, supplies and clothing to these orphanages?
    R Vardon.

    • Stig Skaran

      I am not sure it is a good idea to send any supplies to these “orphanages,” unless you have a good relationship with them, and now that they work for reuniting families and provide a family like environment for the children.


  1. Day 22 | Exploring Downtown Yangon by foot, observing Greater Yangon from the train – yolomimo - […] in a foreign country. Later that night we looked up Myanmar’s orphan situation online. Here is a link detailing…

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