- 90 per cent of young people feel contributing to society is important, but parents worry about their children taking part in activity that was previously considered illegal;
- Many young people see decisions about their future as a trade-off between their wishes and those of their parents and community elders.
Traditional parents are preventing young people in Myanmar from taking advantage of the opportunities that come with the country’s return to civilian rule, according to a survey by the British Council and VSO.
The Next Generation Myanmar report paints an optimistic picture of young people in Myanmar, through surveys and interviews with 2,400 18-30-year-olds from across the country.
It found 90 per cent of respondents feel that making contributions to their societies or communities was important to them, and 82.7 per cent see volunteering as a way of bringing about positive change in society.
The report notes: “In interviews and group discussions, youth explained that while volunteering has always been important in Myanmar, such political activity would likely have been criminally punished in the past. Now, this political activity is common.”
However, while 86.9 per cent felt they had ‘agency over their own future’, later interviews with participants found that many of these had considered this agency to include parents, family and community elders – many of whom disapprove of this type of activity.
The report says: “To older generations…any social engagement beyond religious service or ethnic preservation activities seems like political activism, a field that was completely off limits when their parents were young”.
Student union meetings or training organised by civil society organisations are considered ‘politics’, according to the report which quotes one 24-year-old activist from the country’s National League for Democracy as saying ‘politics equal jail in the people’s mind’.
Next Generation Myanmar, the first survey of its kind to explore the hopes and aspirations of young people in the country, was conducted by the British Council and VSO in partnership with Conflict Management Consulting and the Center for Diversity and National Harmony.
When asked about their values, 98.4 per cent of young people described family as important or very important in their lives, but when asked about their future only 39.3 per of women and 48.4 per cent of men said getting married was an important goal for them.
Men were also more likely to say having children was important: more than half (53.9 per cent) felt that having children in the future was important to them, compared to 45.8 per cent of women.
Other key findings in the report include:
- High concern about drug use and associated crime among young people among almost all people surveyed.
- About one in five (21.2 per cent) had experienced discrimination based on their religion. However, a large majority of respondents did not feel ethnicity or religion was a problem in choosing their friends, with 72 per cent saying they would like to have a person of a different religion in their group of friends and 81.5 per cent saying they would like a person of a different ethnicity.
- When asked if the state should have the right to censor mass media ‘to ensure civic order and morality’, 67.8 per cent of young people agreed. However, when pressed on this in follow up interviews and discussions, they expressed most concern with misleading or ‘fake’ news. Only 56.6 per cent approved of media activities in their regions, citing ‘false news’ news’ that could lead to ‘religious, ethnic, and political violence’ as reason for their disapproval.
- When asked about the actions of the government and military in Rakhine State in 2017 and the international backlash, 78.8 per cent of young people said they were ‘concerned about what happened in Rakhine’, but far fewer (31.9 per cent) felt the international criticism of Myanmar was reasonable. Nearly nine out of ten survey respondents (86.6 per cent) said they were worried that civilians have lost lives in the military operations, and approximately the same proportion agreed the government should do a better job protecting civilians. However half (49.1 per cent) believed that the army did the right thing in Rakhine.
Country Director of British Council Myanmar, Dr. Richard Sunderland, said: “This is a generation emerging in a changing context, with new freedoms and opportunities but also new challenges as young people in Myanmar are exposed to the world as never before.
“The British Council and VSO are delighted to support this research and amplify their voices. As one participant said ‘youth are an untapped potential in Myanmar’. We agree and are confident that Myanmar’s youth will play a positive role in the country’s future.”
Country Director, VSO Myanmar Country Office, Joyce Laker said: “Young people are the cornerstone for durable peace and development in Myanmar. The Next Generation research has set a foundation for government and development partners to better understand and explore viable options and alternatives for engaging youth.
“Unless we recognize young people potentials, invest in empowering them, building their resilience and creating space for them to lead initiatives to transform their lives, we will be missing a lot of achieving sustainable development”