Childhood in Laos

Approximately half of the population of Laos live under the poverty line, and the in context of this poverty an unhealthy proportion of children in Laos grow up in very tough circumstances. Not all children in Laos experience a difficult childhood, but far too many do despite the best continuing best efforts of charitable organisations such as unicef and Save The Children.

About Childhood in Laos

The statistics relating to children in Laos are grim. The worst indicator is the rate of child mortality. Approximately 8% of children born in Laos die before they reach the age of 5. In neighbouring Thailand that figure is around 1%. This isn’t the only worrying statistic, research by unicef suggests the following:

  • 27% of children under the age of 5 are underweight.
  • 36% of children under the age of 5 have stunted growth.
  • 75% of children aged from 2 to 14 years experience violence or aggression from an adult family member.
  • Around 40% of children have no access to sanitation facilities.
Children's Day in Laos
Children’s Day in Laos

As well as suffering from poor nutrition and widespread child abuse, a high proportion of children in Laos do not have access to good education. Only the first five years of education in Laos is compulsory, from 6 to 10 years old, and a worryingly high proportion of children in Laos (around 20%) don’t even manage to complete this initial period, especially in poorer areas.

Around 10% of children are full time workers, with an unknown proportion of children Laos trafficked and forced into prostitution, particularly in Thailand and in China. Put simply a lot of children in Laos receive little food or education and are treated as commodities.

Underlying Problems in Laos

The causes of this situation are complex. However, the strong statistical correlation between ethnicity and the well being of children suggests some explanations. About half the population of Laos is classed as Lao Lum, which means lowland Lao, who speak the Lao language and live in areas with better infrastructure around Vientiane and other major towns in the south of the country such as Pakse.

The other half of the country is comprised of a further 48 to 159 ethnic groups, the number depends on the classification used. What data there is suggests that childhood poverty, poor educational outcome, and health problems are concentrated amongst these ethnic groups. Save the Children estimate that 90% of Lao Lum children were enrolled in school with that figure dropping as low as 49% for other ethnic groups.

The half of the population who do not speak Lao as a first language tend to live in mountainous areas with little in the way of infrastructure. For example, Save the Children estimate that around 40% of rural villages have no road access and only 80% have a primary school. Given that Laos has around 9,000 primary schools and 1,000 secondary schools, the greater likelihood is that many children in remote areas experience massive difficulty in even being able to reach a secondary school and therefore have no access to any more than the most basic of an education.

The story is largely similar in terms of medical care, and also in terms of the authorities actively monitoring the well being of children in the kind of remote areas where Laos’s ethnic minorities live. Children whose first language isn’t Lao fare a lot worse than the other half of the country who speak Lao as a first language.

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