Public finance is regulated on children in Myanmar to ensure the provision of education, health, and social protection. Although Myanmar has a child population of over 34%, public investment in children is relatively very low (UNICEF, 2018). According to Myanmar’s 2017-18 public finance management, only 12.5% of overall government budget allocation was invested in education, health, and social welfare. Whereas, in Thailand, 19.13% of total government expenditure was spent on education in 2013 (UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 2020). Scaling up the national social assistance programmes gradually could lead to an efficient and beneficial social protection system led by the Myanmar government.
Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Targets of appropriate social protection systems, including floors, the country has limited schemes and certain programmes in place have very low coverage, such as the health services, of which Myanmar has low coverage and does not provide a defined benefit package. As for children, there are only a few and inadequate benefits in place. In addition, there is insufficient protection for out-of-school children in Myanmar. Expanding the coverage and benefit levels of current programmes and introducing new programmes for uncovered populations would be good strategies for reducing the social protection gap.
In 2018, 29.4% of children under the age of 5 in Myanmar were stunted, 39.9% of boys and 33.3% of girls between the ages of 5-19 were underweight, and under5 wasting has no progress or worsening status (Global Nutrition Report, 2018). Among the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, child malnutrition in Myanmar remains high despite the improvements since 2000. The main factors behind children’s poor nutrition include lack of access to safe water and sanitation, improper feeding practices, limitation of early childhood interaction, and insufficient medical attention.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has supported the government of Myanmar and coordinates the implementation of the activities at the township level alongside the Ministry of Education (MoE), particularly social protection programmes for children. Since 1996, WFP has established school feeding in the northern part of Rakhine. This WFP school feeding programme, under the on-going Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, covers the entire school year of early childhood care development (ECCD) centres and primary schools with high energy biscuits (HEB) and the daily snack. As by 2016, WFP School Feeding Programme has reached 6 states/regions; Chin, Kachin, Magway, Rakhine, Shan, and Wa.
The goal of this feeding programme is to increase school enrolment rates, attendance, and to reduce retention rates. It also aims to minimise malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (WFP, 2019). Myanmar government has also set to start school feeding as a social safety net in order to reach the transformational goal of Middle-Income Country status by 2030 (WFP, 2016). The government and WFP plan to increase the school feeding operation to reach 1 million school children by 2021.
Source: 2019 School Feeding WFP Myanmar
The Legacy Maternal and Child Cash Transfer (MCCT), another child-focused programme, was funded from January 2016 till April 2019 by the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund. To improve the nutritional outcomes, this mother and child cash transfer programme provides MMK15,000 per month (approximately 9.81 USD) for every mother and child throughout the critical first 1,000 days of life. The right nutrition and care during the 1,000 days would not only help the child to survive, but also to learn, grow and rise out of poverty towards long-term health and stability (UNICEF, 2017).
It also aimed to enhance knowledge and change crucial behaviours on hygiene and nutrition by having regular Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) sessions with pregnant women, their family members, and influential stakeholders. The MCCT has reached 11,588 women from three Townships (Pakokku, Yesagyo, and Mahlaing) in Mandalay and Magway regions, in which 26% of children under 5 are stunted (Save the Children, 2019).
Source: Save the Children, 2019
UNICEF is another institution supporting children activities in the country, such as the Public Finance for Children (PF4C), which aims equitable results for children, impacts the allocation, mobilisation, and utilisation of domestic public resources. Therefore, PF4C could contribute to the realisation children’s rights by assisting the best possible use of public budgets through trainings aiming to provide a framework for a better understanding of the links between central agencies of finance and line ministries, the allocation of resources, and the budget execution in Myanmar. This PF4C training aspires to develop the work capacity with the government’s systems and to advocate the public investments for children effectively and efficiently. For instance, the growth of expenditure on education has improved the earning capacity of households and could reduce child labour in Myanmar. They have PF4C training various professionals from diverse backgrounds with varied interests that included sector specialists (health, nutrition, WASH) based in Yangon and field officers based in states and regions (Oxford Policy Management, n.d.).
Although good programmes supported by important international partners such as UNICEF, the country requires an increasing public expenditure on children yet, particularly in social protection programmes to support tackling poverty and development issues. These social protection programmes for children are important for ensuring children’s rights, helping children develop their potential to the fullest, and to ensure their well-being. To do that, the investment in defence needs to be reduced according to the Framework for Economic and Social Reform (FESR, 2014; UNICEF, 2014). Therefore, expanding public expenditure on social protection could reduce the crucial gap in the social assistance system as Myanmar is gradually developing and improving the livelihoods of the children in the country.
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Handayani, S. W., Carraro, L., Villarroel, M. I., & Bongestabs A. F. (2018). Fiscal challenges to financing social protection to achieve the sustainable development goals: A case of three countries. Asian Development Bank. Accessible: https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/453246/sdwp-055-financing-social-protection.pdf
Myanmar National Social Protection Strategic Plan. (2014). The Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Accessible: https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourcePDF.action?ressource.ressourceId=50377
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