Beyond the male: The case for a gender analysis of illicit drugs in Burma

July 19, 2013

WCRP: On June 26, Burma’s anti-narcotics task force marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking by destroying over 4.4 billion kyat worth of illegal drugs. This move, along with others aimed at rehabilitating drug users and developing alternative crops for poppy farmers, seems fitting in light of recent international recognition of the country’s drug problems. In the past year Burma has been named by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as the world’s second largest producer of opium and the “top source of illicit methamphetamine pills in East and Southeast Asia.” Read more

Education reform remains elusive

July 19, 2013

WCRP: In March 2011, President U Thein Sein gave a speech to parliament urging improvements to the national education system. He called for implementing a system of free, compulsory primary schooling, upgrading the country’s educational standards to international levels, and increasing enrollment in basic education. Changes have thereby been made in the last few years that ostensibly liberated students and their families to freely pursue education. According to education officials, registration fees have been waived, textbooks are provided free of charge, and the local administrators’ practice of collecting “donations” to buy school equipment (for everything from the headmaster’s chair to a football for the schoolyard) was targeted for elimination. Read more

Young People and Drugs

May 8, 2013



Civil society groups discussed the issue of drug use in a development seminar for Mon people, in order to write a paper about drugs based on as much information from the community as possible. These civil society groups think that young people, as our future leaders, need to take responsibility for their country’s political situation. However, there is a currently a serious drug problem in Mon areas, which gives us cause for concern about young Mon people today and their ability to take on this role. The authors of this paper have researched this topic and written this paper as part of their aim to eradicate drug use in Mon State.

The history of drugs in Mon State

50 years ago people living in Mon State could not buy bottled alcohol. Instead Mon people cooked sugar cane together with another ingredient to turn this into alcohol, making what is called “Ha Jo”. Ha Jo was often given out to guests at parties and social gatherings. In this period alcohol was also made from palm sap and rice.

The beginnings of modern drugs

After the army took over the country, there was a decrease in production of alcohol in the home; the army and other individual traders made deals with drug producers in other countries, with the result that drugs and alcohol started to become available to buy. After the military takeover people in Mon State could buy alcohol, heroin and marijuana, and use of these drugs began.

By 2000, Mon migrant workers in Thailand were also using drugs, including “opium leaf” (referred to here under its Mon name, this drug is called “Ban Ka Tan” by Thais) and Ya Ba. Ya Ba is also very popular in Mon state.

The situation of young people today and the drugs problem in Mon State

In Mon State only 10% of young people start university, of which 7% are female and 3% male. Numerous young people do not complete their education due to financial difficulties, with many migrating to other countries aged 15-16 to seek employment. There is a lack of opportunities for young people to learn about different careers and to develop skills. Many young people fall into bad habits and engage in antisocial behavior, for example stealing and behaving violently.

Today, a high number of young people from across Mon state use alcohol and drugs. Of these drugs Ya Ba is the most dangerous for their futures, due to its behavioral and psychological effects.

Ya Ba emerged in Burma after the 2000 ceasefire between the Burmese government and ethnic armed forces. Using rights gained in the cease fire (particularly those securing freer travel and business) increasing numbers of ethnic armed force members started producing and selling drugs for profit.

Before the ceasefire armed force groups produced drugs in the jungle, but production has since moved to villages, including those in Karen and Mon areas. After the drugs are produced, they are given to young people to sell. Drug use has spread quickly and easily among young people, due to a lack of knowledge about drugs and the unstable political situation diverting attention from the need to tackle increasing drug use.

Mon areas with greatest increases in drug use

The areas in Mon state with the greatest increases in drug use are: Poung Township, Mawlamyine, Kaw Karoak Township, Karinnseik kyi Township, Mudon Townshi, Tanphyusayat Township, Lamine Township, Ye Township, Tenisaryee Devision.

According to leaders from these communities, the percentages of people in each area using drugs are as follows: 10% in poung Township, 30% in Mawlamyine, 45% in Kaw Ka rate Township, 40% in Bar Ann Township, 30% in Choung Sone Township, 35% in Kyike Ma Yaw Township, 40% in Karinnseik Kyi Township, 55% in Mudon Township, 50% in Thanphyuzayat Township, 45% in Lamine Township, 40% in Ye Township (these percentages are approximate, and may be subject to some error).

The effect of drugs

Drug use has spread to most areas in Mon state and it is estimated that almost 50% of young people use drugs.

Drug use has the following effects:

  • Hostility between individuals from different townships and villages
  • Young people falling into bad habits e.g. stealing, violence, antisocial behavior
  • The arrest of drug users, which causes problems for their parents. Parents often end up having to pay fines, and frequently feel ashamed of their children.

How to eliminate drug use

  • Solve the underlying political issues
  • Educate the community about drugs
  • Identify and punish people who use drugs
Solution Responsibility 1 Responsibility 2 Responsibility 3
Solving political issues Government Political parties Civil society
Educating the community Government Political parties Civil society groups
Arrest and punishment Government Ethnic armed forces  


For the good of our Federation, we need to fight for both human and ethnic rights. In general, political democracy parties fight mainly for human rights, whilst ethnic political parties and armed forces struggle for ethnic rights. However, pursuing both kinds of rights simultaneously is of benefit to both individual citizens and the development of our federation. Otherwise, the struggle for ethnic rights will continue, as will abuses against ethnic groups. Furthermore, without both types of rights there is no easy solution to the spread of drug use amongst young people.


The life of a young trafficked woman

October 19, 2012

“Ma Mya,” an alias, is a 19-year-old ethnic Pa-Oh woman from Mon State in southern Burma. The narrative of her life traces the risks and challenging decisions that often confront young women who have no education, no community support system, and limited employment opportunities. Ma Mya’s account illustrates the vulnerability, and ultimately the strength, that can develop out of adversity. Read more

Women narratives: the life of a refugee

June 11, 2012

WCRP: Her alias is Naw La Marn and she is 31 years old. She has two sons (nine and twelve) and a six-year-old daughter. She grew up in the village of Kyaut Pyat in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, where she worked on a farm in her youth. But when Naw La Marn was 14, her family left home and never returned. When she married at age 18, the wedding was held in a refugee camp. Read more

Male and Female Porters and Human Shields at Burma’s Frontline

August 2, 2011


Story of male porters

“They kicked and punched my back and face, leaving my nose bleeding. Sobbingly, I apologized and explained that even though I’m wearing a soldier’s vest, it does not mean I’m a Karen rebel soldier. But they never stopped kicking my back,” said Saw Kyaw Tho.

Saw Kyaw Tho is a 41-year-old Karen man, living in Ah Pa-lon village, Kya-inn-seikyi Township, Karen State. He farms and cuts broom grasses for a living.
The outbreak of post-election fighting between Burmese government troops and the Breakaway DKBA Brigade 5 has led to many local residents in Kya-inn-seikyi Township being forced to serve as porters and human shields for the government troops. Read more

The other side of working in a food stall

July 19, 2011


“I work this job because I am poor, not because I enjoy it or have a choice in the matter” said Yu Yu Khaing (alias).

Yu Yu Khaing is 19 years old and she lives in Zin Kyait village, Mon State. She is Burmese and there are three siblings in her family. Yu Yu Khaing works in a food stall since it was originally built. She earns a basic salary of 15,000 Kyat per month working in the food stall. For extra income Yu Yu Khaing sells soft drinks as a waitress and earns another 100,000 Kyat per month on top of her basic income. Yu Yu Khaing spends 150, 000 Kyat to support and feed her family every month and the remaining spending money is between 20-30,000 Kyat. Read more

HIV child hopes for the future

July 16, 2010

Chan Chan, WCRP

“I don’t want to take a lot of medicine. It is very boring. I just want to be the same as the other children. They don’t have to take medicine like me,” said Mi Saw, a Mon child who lives in the Safe House run by the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), near Huay Malai in Kanchnaburi province, Thailand.

Mi Saw* is 13-years-old and HIV positive. She lived in Halockanee, an Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) resettlement site, on the Burmese side of the Thai-Burma border with her mother and father before moving to the Safe House. Her parents were diagnosed with AIDS when she was 5-years-old. Her mother died first and Mi Saw was left to care for her ailing father. Read more

Fleeing Prying Eyes; A Mothers Search for Safety

June 16, 2010

WCRP: Mi Cho*, a 40-year-old Mon woman, was born, married and gave birth to her six children in Alaesakhan village, Yebu Township, Tenasserim Division, southern Burma, however, because of increased instability throughout Mon state, she was forced to migrate to an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) area near the border of Thailand. Read more

A mother’s fears realized

March 23, 2010

WCRP: “I don’t want to return until I have earned enough money to start a shop for my family in my hometown,” said Mi Yi, a Mon woman from Kaw-kha-lein village, Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State, southern Burma. Read more

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