With its gleaming new shopping malls and high-rise apartment blocks, Yangon has become the symbol of Myanmar’s rapid economic growth. Yet in its poorest neighbourhoods, 85 percent of households are borrowing money from loan sharks, just to cover their basic living expenses.
While the loans may rescue them from an immediate financial emergency, the interest rates – which range from five percent daily to 60 percent monthly – trap borrowers in a perpetual cycle of debt. As families struggle to make their repayments, many send their children out to work.
Aung Thet Paing’s mother decided to take him and his brother out of school and put them to work as rubbish collectors after her debts began spiralling out of control.
They now spend their days searching for plastic bottles and tin cans that they can trade in for cash. It’s a relentless task, particularly in the summer months when temperatures can soar to 40 degrees Celsius [≈ usually fatal human fever].
“I want to go back to school,” says Aung Thet Paing.
“When I see my friends, I feel sad. I cry because I can’t go to school. Now, I have chosen to work, because there is no one to help mum.”
Myanmar has one of the worst rates of underage employment in the world. The government estimates that there are 1.3 million child labourers, many of whom are working to help pay off their parents’ debts.
101 East travels to the slums of Yangon to meet the families drowning in debt and those making money from their misery.