A group of homeless families including around 15 children were arrested by the local authorities in Prome (Pyay) in Pegu Division on Saturday and dumped at the foot of the Arakan Yoma mountain range 35 miles away, according to sources.
Ba Shee, who runs Prome’s Mercy Hands School, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that many of the victims were orphans aged between three and 12 who study with him. Pregnant women were also amongst those snared by police and municipal employees near the township’s Strand Road and Night Market, he said.
“We started looking for the children and enquiring as to their whereabouts when they, who always attend the school, disappeared for two days,” said Ba Shee. “We finally found that they were arrested, put into a garbage truck and carried away. They had to walk for about three days to get back here from where they were dumped.”
He explained that the school was established in order to bring the children, who live by begging and scavenging on garbage dumps, back into society. Teachers try to foster moral behavior and free them from the mental trauma of losing their parents.
Mercy Hands, which was opened at Myakuntaung Monastery in Prome’s Hsandaw Ward three months ago, teaches Burmese and religious studies from 8 am to 11 am. The children are also provided with lunch.
The Irrawaddy contacted No. 2 police station and the township municipal office in Prome, 180 miles north of Rangoon, for further details about the Aug. 4 incident but was told that no such arrest took place.
However, the township’s Social Welfare Department admitted that it had heard reports about the homeless families’ treatment and had asked the District Administration Office for additional information.
The Burmese Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has only been able to run juvenile training schools in Rangoon and Mandalay, the country’s two biggest cities, for homeless youth and others requiring rehabilitation.
Min Min, a human rights activist in Prome, told The Irrawaddy that arresting and dumping children or sending them to juvenile detention centers is counterproductive. The new government should have a specific plan for their future as locally-based social organizations cannot take care of them in the long run, he said.
Currently, many orphans in Prome are cared for at monasteries such as Yadana Mizzuri, Zingyantaung, Khamyadana, Kyauktaung and Waiponlasayi where they can also study.
Last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund initiated a project for the development and protection of children in Prome together with a private organization, but this has since ceased operations.