Bitter Side of Burma’s Tea Shops
Tourists coming to Burma will immediately notice the abundance of tea shops that spill over the sidewalks. Not just a place for tea, it is where Burmese go to socialize, smoke cigarettes, have some breakfast, and indulge in sweet treats. Indeed, tea shops are an integral part of Burmese culture. Apart from the small plastic chairs and tables, child workers are a staple in Burmese tea shops. These children forego their basic education, work as much as 16 hours a day, live in deplorable conditions, and earn as little as 30,000-50,000 kyat per month (Euros24-Euros40) which they send to their families.
To provide teashop workers basic literacy, math, and computer skills, a new initiative known as Myanmar Mobile Education Project will be launched in January 2014. The initiative of Tim Aye Hardy, a former 88 Generation student, the project will offer blocks of two hour classes six days a week inside a bus. The bus can accommodate up to 20 students at a time. The goal of the project is to demonstrate the importance of education to the children, and show teashop owners the advantages of having quality staff.
From a larger perspective, child labor in Burma is a serious problem. So serious in fact, that child labor is a pillar of the economy. A 2012 ranking by the International Labor Organization (ILO) identified Burma, North Korea, Sudan, and Somalia as the worst countries in terms of child labor violations. In his May Day message this year, President Thein Sein announced that the government will ratify the ILO’s Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. In addition, Burma recently signed an agreement to conduct a National Labour Force Survey, which will shape a Decent Work Country Programme. While these are all positive developments that will protect the rights of children in Burma, it remains to be seen how and if they will be implemented.
The Chins are one Burma’s largest ethnic groups, and historically live in the mountains of western Burma. Known for their beautiful women, it is believed that the Chins tattooed their women to make them unattractive to others and to prevent abduction. The tattoos are “made from heating the bark of green pine trees and capturing the smoke in a mud pot. The smoke is then mixed with a kind of bean leaf and the resulting liquid is injected under the skin using the thorn of a cane plant.” Chin women used to be tattooed before marriage, as a sign of love and loyalty for their perspective partners.
Just like the neck rings of the Padaung women, Chin tattoos are strongly rooted in their history as a people. They believe that “the king of hell will call those without tattoos on their faces”, a clear indication that the tattoos are not just decorative, but play a large part in their mythology.
Nowadays, seeing a tattooed Chin woman is quite rare. An elder from the ethnic group laments that Chin tattoos can now only be found in books, and “will surely disappear when we die”. A couple of factors have contributed to the tradition’s decline: a socialist government ban in the 1960s, conversion into Christianity, and the younger generation’s changing perception of beauty.
Tattooed Chin women living on the banks of the Lemro River have become tourist attractions, drawing criticisms from people opposing ‘human zoos’. On the other side of the debate, tourist donations have gone towards the upkeep of local schools, long-neglected by the Burmese government.
Visa Exemption Agreement
Most recently, Burma reached a visa exemption agreement with Mongolia for diplomatic and special passport holders. Mongolian president Mr. Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj is currently in Burma, the country’s first state visit since 1956.