UNICEF, Save the Children, and UNESCO called on security forces in Myanmar to vacate schools after reports that the military has disrupted learning across more than 60 schools and university campuses, according to a statement on March 19.
“These incidents mark a further escalation of the current crisis and represent a serious violation of the rights of children. Schools must not be used by security forces under any circumstances,” the statement said.
The military junta took control in February, claiming there were cases of voter fraud during the country’s democratic election that resulted in the election of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader, to another term. Since then, mass protests in Myanmar against the military coup have resulted in reports of violence against women, arrests, and the deaths of at least 149 people, according to UN News.
A 2015 survey conducted by UNICEF found that 1 in 5 children in Myanmar were not attending school due to economic hardship and limited access, resulting in the implementation of the National Education Strategic Plan 2016–2021. The plan sought to reform education policies to deliver quality and accessible education to all children in the country, including those living in rural areas.
Now, the presence of military personnel in Myanmar’s schools, coupled with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education system, poses additional risks to children’s access to learning.
Students, educators, and youth groups have joined protests against the military coup, citing threats to democracy and freedom, according to Reuters. Security forces are responsible for using excessive force when entering campuses, such as by beating teachers and school officials.
The military has also threatened the institutional autonomy of schools by arresting teachers it believes are sympathetic to the ousted government, according to Inside Higher Ed.
UNICEF, Save the Children, and UNESCO reminded security forces of their obligation to uphold the rights of all children in Myanmar to education under the country’s law and asked that they end all occupation of learning centers and public institutions.