Overview of the Right to Education for the Chins in Burma

According to 2008 figures from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), there are 109,334 students in Chin State, making up a fifth of the total population of 533,047 in the State.[1] The same statistics show that there are 4,777 teaching staff in Chin State. This means that in theory there is an average of one teacher for every 22 students. However, this is generally not the case especially in rural areas where up to 200 students share a single teacher.[2] Understaffing is a major impediment to access to quality education in the rural areas, which comprise the larger portion of Chin State. In many areas, one school is shared by up to four to five villages in the area.

With only 49 high schools, there is no higher learning institution such as college or university in Chin State. High school graduates must continue their higher education outside of Chin State, an added barrier to educational access for Chin students, as well as, a financial burden for parents with one or more students studying in colleges or universities.

1. Banning of the use and teaching of Chin language in official government schools

Since 1990, teaching of Chin language as a separate subject in primary schools has been banned. Prior to 1988, Chin language was allowed to be taught up to the 4th grade as part of the official curriculum. However, only Burmese is allowed as the medium of communication in school since 1990. Informal primary schools set up by communities in the rural areas which provided learning in Chin language have also been banned since 1998.[3] The only alternative avenue for learning Chin language is the Christian churches, which discreetly run informal classes for Chin children out of the church buildings. However, these kinds of programs are only possible in major towns where the congregations are big enough to be able to provide volunteer teachers, as well as, financially support such initiatives.[4] The restrictions on the use and learning of Chin language has meant that a higher percentage of Chin youths are not able to read or write in their own language.[5] This also means that Chin children are losing part of their culture and traditions that go hand-in-hand with the use and learning of their language.

2.       Educational Incentives to Promote Buddhism

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) openly use state resources to promote Buddhism through the Ministry for Development of Border Areas and National Races and Municipal Affairs, or Na- Ta- La, the commonly used Burmese acronym.

In southern Chin State’s Kanpalet Township the ministry is running a school (Border Areas Ethnic Youth Development Training School), which is separate from the regular public school system. Students wishing to attend the school are required to convert to Buddhism and are accorded free school fees, uniforms and monthly rations.

Since July this year, U Hung Om head of the Na-Ta-La school, has been telling young people [high school male students] to change what’s written on their identity card from Christian to Buddhism.  If they change their religion on their ID card they will get a school uniform for free, a monthly rice and lentil ration.[6]

The SPDC is also providing full scholarships for new Buddhist converts to attend a high school in Mandalay. Graduates of this school are eligible for automatic placement as head or deputy heads of the various government departments at the township level. A senior pastor from Kanpalet recently interviewed by CHRO explains:

They [the SPDC/Na-Ta-La] are basically trying to convert young people to Buddhism.  These students who convert are sent to the school and then as soon as they graduate they are given a position with the local authorities.  If you carry an ID card that says you are a Christian, it’s very difficult to get a job.  But Buddhists enjoy all the advantages.  Even though the Buddhist and Christian populations are more or less equal in number in our area, they are getting these positions and will dominate all the positions of power in our area.  Therefore we will face increasing discrimination.[7]

3. Impediments to Access to Education

(a) Grossly inadequate salary for teachers

In addition to problems with understaffing, teachers are grossly inadequately paid. Teachers must find other alternative means to supplement their income. In Chin State, the monthly salary for a high school headmaster is between 64,000 – 80,000 Kyats (64 – 80 USD), depending on length of service; high school teacher is between 59,000 – 64,000 Kyats (59-64 USD); middle school teachers 53,000 – 59,000 Kyats (53-59 USD);  and primary school teachers 47,000 – 53,000 kyats (47-53 USD) respectively. The Township Education Officer, in charge of the education department in a township, earns 100,000 Kyats per month (100 USD). [8] On the other hand, one 50kg sack of rice costs as much as 35,000 Kyats in the state capital Hakha.[9] To help meet the teachers’ basic needs, some schools resort to collecting compulsory extra fees from students for additional classes after the normal school hours, which usually cover important aspects of the curriculum. In a high school at Rih sub-town of Falam Township, for example, the each student was required to pay 2000 Kyats per month beginning in the 2008-2009 academic calendar year.[10] One parent said:

It is a big extra burden for the parents if they have multiple children attending school. This program has little to do with academic. It is because the teachers need a side income since they cannot survive on their meager salaries.[11]

In Thantlang Township, arbitrarily-set high admission fees prevented many school students from enrolling. Beginning from the 2006-2007 academic calendar year, the Township Education Officer had imposed an admission fee of 3500 kyats for each high school student, 3000 Kyats for middle school student and 2000 Kyats for primary level students. When added with the costs of school uniforms and books, each student spent about 20,000 Kyats (20 USD) per year.[12]

Government employees in Chin State, including teachers, also face arbitrary taxation or pay cuts.

2 March 2009: Government employees in Chin State have their meager monthly salary cut for as much as 7000 to 8000 Kyats each month. Although unofficial, the cut in salary is affecting all public employees in the State, making it even more difficult for families of government employees to make ends meet. Not practiced in any other States or Divisions within Burma, the monthly salary cut in Chin State is meant to cover the costs of ‘entertainment activities’ for visiting ‘junta dignitaries’ as well as to cover the cost of procuring Jatropha [a type of bio-fuel] and tea seedlings.[13]

(b) Use of students as forced laborers/porters

One of the major impediments to access to education is the Burma Army’s total disregard for students’ educational welfare. Burma army units have regularly used students and children as young as those still in primary school for portering and other forms of forced labor.  This typically happens at harvest time, when villagers are away working in their fields and no adults are available to fulfill forced labour demands.

September 2008: Students studying at a Government High School of Rih sub-town are regularly forced to fence an army camp or work at government-run Jatropha plantations. The forced labor practice using the students started since September of 2008 and happens on every weekend since.  Students are threatened with failing their exams for failure to show up at work, and are caned by the headmaster of the school at the school assembly on every Monday.[14]

On 15 July 2005, Sergeant Tin Soe, Burma army stationary camp commander of Lailenpi army camp, Matupit Township from Light Infantry Battalion 305, conscripted 10 primary school students and five government employees to carry army ration supplies for a 12-mile distance. They were forced to carry 10 tins of rice, 10 bottles of cooking oil, 15 Kg of fish paste and 7 Kg of dried chili.[15]

On 2 August, 2005, Sergeant Thein Win, commander of Sabawngte army outpost from Matupi-based Light Infantry Battalion (304) ordered 18 Sabawngte villagers including 5 teenage girls to transport army goods.[16]

On July 24, 2004, Captain Myo Min Naing of Burma army Light Infantry Battalion 274 forced 21 high school students, including several girls from Sabawngpi High School in Matupi Township to carry army goods and supplies between Sabawngpi and Sabawngte village.[17]

While the Burmese soldiers are mainly responsible for compelling students to perform forced labor, the regime’s township level administrations have also been directly involved in exacting involuntary labor involving students.

An order by U Sai Maung, Chairman of the Tedim Township Peace and Development Council in July 2005 compelled students to perform forced labor to work at government-run tea plantation. Those students who failed to perform the forced labor duty were fined 500 Kyats.[18]

(c) Conscription into the Burma army & militia service

The Burma Army often targets youths and high school students for conscription into the army, as well as, the civilian militia or ‘voluntary firemen.’

In June 2010, CHRO received information about three underage soldiers and several soldiers who are now aged 18, but were underage at the time of their recruitment, currently serving in Light Infantry Battalion 268 based in the Falam area.[19]

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Press Release on the briefing is also available here on PDF file

6 November 2010

Briefing: Election Conditions in Chin State

Elections-Related Human Rights Violations

a. Portering

During a trip to assess polling station locations and collect information to compile voter registration lists in the village tracts of Zahnak, Vanzang and Khualhring, a remote area of Thantlang township, a police chief and his subordinates from Thantlang town’s police station ordered local villagers to carry their belongings. The villagers, from Ral Pel, Dawn, Lungding, Fung Kah and Zangtlang, were also forced to provide food during the trip.   Two persons from each village were forced to porter for a day to the next village en route, starting from Dawn village on 7 October. The police chief also ordered local people to provide a horse for him to ride from Zangtlang village.[1]

b. Forced Relocation

On 13 September, the Township Peace and Development Council in Hakha, the capital of Chin State, issued an order to 57 local government staff and their families to move out of state-owned houses in Chin Oo Si block.  No new accommodation was provided and the families were given just one week to comply, or face a fine of 10,000 kyats ($10) for every day that they overstayed past the deadline.  The relocation order was apparently to make way for 40 newly-recruited staff, tasked with working on the elections.[2]

c. Property commandeered

On 26 September, the Director of Education, the head of the Land Registry department and the Chairman of Thantlang Peace and Development Council commandeered a jeep owned by U Pa Luai from Thantlang, without offering him any compensation.  Using the jeep, they transported three ballot boxes and other election materials to Tlangpi village, where they gave training on the election.[3]

Freedom of opinion

a. Forced to join the Union Solidarity and Development Party

In June, A local resident reported that he was summoned to a meeting by the Secretary of his local ward council, Lawngvan.  His photograph was taken, and he was issued a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) membership card without his consultation or consent.  In total, local authorities from Matupi township selected 60 residents from each ward of Matupi town, and forced them to join the USDP.[4]


Also in June, the Chairman of Falam Township Peace and Development Council issued an order that one person from every household in Falam town must join the USDP.  When local people tried to defy the order, they were threatened with punishment.[5]


b. Army checkpoint designated polling station in Falam town

An army checkpoint in Cinmual ward, Falam town has been designated as a polling station, raising fears that voters will face intimidation from soldiers as they try and cast their votes on 7 November.[6]


Election Preparations

a. Inadequate number of polling stations

According to the Polling Officials’ Manual issued by the Union Election Commission, one polling station should be established per 300 registered voters.  In Kalay township, Sagaing Division there are 60 Chin villages, which are home to 76,000 ethnic Chin registered voters.  There are another 110,000 Burmese voters, making a total of 186,000 registered voters in the area.  However, there are only 151 designated polling stations, making an average of more than 1,200 voters per polling station, four times as many as issued in the UEC guidelines.  In Tat Oo Thida and Buda wards in Kalay town, there are 2 polling stations to accommodate 4,079 registered voters, and in Tahan ward three polling stations for 5,604 registered voters.  This raises the possibility of overcrowding and lack of secrecy on polling day.[7]


b. Arbitrary designation and punishment of polling officials

In Thantlang township local government employees, including school teachers, have been arbitrarily designated as polling officials and required to attend training without financial compensation or travel allowance.  In Tlangpi village, Thantlang township, eight middle school teachers who are designated polling officials did not receive their salary in September.  This was apparently as punishment because the headmaster of their school, a designated chief polling officer, failed to attend the training conducted by the township election commission.[8]


c. Advance voting

In Tedim township, polling officials recently visited the homes of elderly residents who will be unable to go to polling stations on 7 November, in order to carry out advance voting.  In violation of the secret ballot, the elderly were required to inform polling officials of the party of their choice, who then marked their ballot papers accordingly on their behalf, and sealed them in an envelope.[9]


Background Information

In Chin State, nine different parties are fielding a total of 146 candidates in Sunday’s elections, for the Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House), Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House), and Pyine Hluttaw (State Assembly).  The parties are:



Candidates for the Pyithu Hluttaw

Candidates for the Amyotha Hluttaw

Candidates for the Pyine Hluttaw

Total number of candidates

Union Solidarity and Development Party





National Unity Party





Chin Progressive Party





Chin National Party





Union Democratic Party





National Democratic Force





United Myanmar Federation of National Politics









Candidates for the Pyithu Hluttaw

Candidates for the Amyotha Hluttaw

Candidates for the Pyine Hluttaw

Total number of candidates

Mro (or) Khami National Solidarity Organization





National Democratic Party for Development











Economic Barriers to Participation

Chin State is one of the most underdeveloped and isolated regions in Burma, with little in the way of road infrastructure, communication systems, healthcare facilities, electricity or running water. 70 percent of the Chin people live below the poverty line; and 40 percent are without adequate food sources[10].  Each candidate had to pay a registration fee of 500,000 kyats ($500) in order to be able to contest in the elections, a significant sum given that the Gross National Income per capita in Burma is around $220.[11] Given the economic situation in Chin State, this fee posed a particular barrier to participation.  In addition, parties were given just two weeks to register their candidates.


[1] Rhododendron News, Sep – Oct 2010, CHRO.

[2] Families Forced to Move Out in Election Preparations, Chinland Guardian, 29 September 2010.

[3] Rhododendron News, Sep – Oct 2010, CHRO.

[4] Rhododendron News, Sep – Oct 2010, CHRO.

[5] Rhododendron News, Sep – Oct 2010, CHRO.

[6] CHRO, 1 November 2010.

[7] CHRO, 4 November 2010.

[8] Rhododendron News, Sep – Oct 2010, CHRO.

[9] CHRO, 5 November 2010.

[10] “Humanitarian Situation UPDATE April 2007”, Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, 2007.

[11] UNICEF, 2008.

CHRO Statement to the 22nd Session of UNWGIP

Statement presented to:
Economic and Social Council
Sub-Commission on the promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP)
Twenty-second session19-23, 2004
Geneva, Switzerland
By: Chin Human Rights Organization
Topic: Conflict Resolution and Indigenous Peoples
Intervener: Kenneth VanBik

Dear Chairperson and members of fellow delegates for  Working Group on Indigenous Populations,

First of all, allow me congratulate you for your reelection as the Chairperson of this Working Group.I also would like to thank you for this opportunity to present the plight of my Chin peoples on this occasion.I am Kenneth VanBik and I represent Chin Human Right Organization. On the one hand, I agree with you that the root cause of conflict in many indigenous areas is due to the State’s refusal to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples. On the other hand, I have reservation on your paper paragraph 18: “the colonization of indigenous territories also negatively affected indigenous peoples in many other ways. Indigenous populations severely diminished in number during the colonial period as a result of forced labour, warfare, malnutrition due to the destruction of the natural environment, diseases and even calculated extermination”

The reason for my reservation is that you did not specifically mention the continuation of such colonial practice in many modern States. Today some States in Asia continues the practice of the colonisers, perpetrating many atrocities against the indigenous peoples, as in Burma. For examples, forced relocations and cultural genocides have been deliberately executed by the military junta in Chin States. By cultural genocide, we mean incidents such as the denial of native language teaching in our own local schools as well as the declaration of Burmese as the only official language in our Chin communities.Religious oppressions also have been occurring in Chin State. Pulling down many crosses and replaced them with pagodas in Chin hills by the Burmese military regime is a reflection of such religious oppression and persecution.These kinds of atrocities inevitably lead to violent confrontation and armed conflict up until today.

Due to the above mentioned atrocities and human rights violations committed by Burma military regime, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided to nominate a Special Reporter on Burma in 1992 in order to monitor situation of human rights in Burma and submit his/her report to United Nations General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights. The resolution is extended every year and the year 2004is not an exception because the human rights situation in Burma remains the same.

In 1994, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to resolve the conflict in Burma. In that resolution, the UNGA strongly urged to have a tripartite dialogue among the major political players in Burma: indigenous leaders, democratic opposition led by the Noble Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military regime. In order to implement this resolution, the UN General Secretary appointed His Special Envoy to Burma in 1995.

As of today, the effort of the Special Envoy has not eased the conflict in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house-arrest, and the military  junta continued its own agenda against the will of the people of Burma as well as that of international community.

For an alternative means to resolve conflict in Burma, I strongly support  for “the establishment an international body to adjudicate or advise on disputes between indigenous peoples living within the borders of a modern State and non-indigenous institutions, including State institutions” (Paragraph 77). Thank you.

CHRO Presentation at the United States Department of State  
The Chin Human Rights Organization had met with the United States Department of State on April 2, 2003. In the meeting, three bureau; Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights And Labor, Bureau for Migration, Population and Refugees, The Burma Desk Officer for The US State Department

April 21, 2003

First of all on behalf of the Chin Human Rights Organization we would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to meet with the State Department of the United States of America. We are particularly appreciative of the fact that the meeting encompasses Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Bureau for Migration, Population and Refugees, and Burma Desk Officer of the State Department.

The statement issued by the State Department in the Country Reports of Human Rights Practice and International Religious Freedom Reports which touched on the present human right situation in Burma is encouraging to the continued movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. We are deeply indebted and grateful for the longstanding supports of the United States for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma.

In the past few years, in Burma, there’s been some “improvement” seen in the area of human rights situation: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and some political prisoners have been released; the International Committee for Red Cross and International Labor Organization have been allowed to be present in the country; the Amnesty International was once allowed in last February to visit the country. As clearly pointed out, however, in the statement of the Amnesty International, there is still much more to be done for human rights condition especially in the ethnic national areas of the country.

Burma continues to be ruled by the military junta and the Chin along with other opponents of the regime, continue to face a multitude of human rights violations. Under Burma’s military regime, the Chin along with other ethnic group in Burma are not only facing gross human rights violations, but they are also losing their culture, literature, customs, and traditions. This situation has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis, both inside and outside the country.

Approximately 50,000 Chin refugees, of men, women and children have sought refuge in India. Of these, only about one percent has legal recognition by the UNHCR and a great majority of them are at risk of deportation by the authorities under which they live. Thousands more are scattered throughout neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand while a great number of them are internally displaced. Their humanitarian need is of great urgency.

That human rights violation seems to be more rampant in the non-Burman ethnic regions is evidenced in the fact that one million internally displaced persons came from the non-Burman ethnic nationalities and a large majority of the two million refugees (out of which about fifty thousand are Chins) from Burma in neighboring countries are of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities. This seems to suggest that the ethnic nationalities of Burma are forcibly pushed to face a rather Burmanization systematically imposed by the successive Burmese governments than democratization of Burma.

Several attempts recently made by the United Nations Special Envoy to solve the longstanding political stalemate in Burma turned out to be non-productive endeavor due to emphasis given solely to the emergence of talk between the National League for Democracy and the military junta. This seems suggestive of the fact that the root cause of the unhealthy human rights and political situation in Burma is much deeper than the possible outcome of talk between the above two parties.

In order to solve human rights crisis in Burma, we believe that there need to be a meaningful political dialogue between the military junta, National League for Democracy party and leaders of ethnic nationalities in the country. As the ethnic nationalities (who owned 57% of landmass with more than 40% of the country’s population) are co-founder of the Union of Burma, it is necessary for them to participate in addressing the political future of the Union of Burma. This is crucial for bringing meaningful solution to Burma’s political turmoil.

It is of paramount importance to recognize and respect the right of the ethnic nationalities to determine their political future beginning with any process aimed at breaking political deadlock in Burma, because conflicts long-rooted in Burma are the direct result of failure to recognize this fact. We feel that it is important for the United States government and the world community to remain aware of this and adopt stronger measures against the Burmese military junta so that it will eventually be forced to undertake meaningful dialogue aimed at bringing peace, harmony and democracy to Burma.

Thank you.

To protect and promote human rights and democratic principles