Children make up 50% of the Lao population. Poverty is the most common care problem faced by Lao children, particularly those living in rural areas (approx 37%), leading to poor healthcare, nutrition and education.
Although various instruments of government legislation have been enacted for the development and protection of Lao children, there is still a lack of specific national strategies for protecting children directly from abuse, exploitation and neglect under the framework of UNCRC. There is no formal child protection or social welfare system for children in Laos.
Harmful traditional practices
Violence against children is still considered a private matter in the Lao PDR, particularly in the home, and like many countries around the world, the way a parent disciplines his/her own child falls within a parent’s right to respect for family life. Due to this and also many other reasons (social, economic, immigration), cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation are not being reported or are being underplayed.
There are growing concerns of the numbers of children being lured into commercial sexual exploitation with child prostitution common.
Although the Family Law sets the age of marriage at 18 years, it is believed that many girls in rural areas marry during adolescence, and as young as 13 or 14 in some ethnic groups . As a result, many girls start having children at a very young age.
Children without appropriate care and children on the move
The main groups of children without appropriate care are orphans, street children, victims of trafficking and unsafe migration and children in detention centres (who are not separated from adults). National 2006 data stated that there were 85,292 orphans under 16 years of age in Laos (3.5% of the child population).
There are about 800 street children (either working or living on the streets, or doing both) in the Lao capital. A survey in the capital found that of 270 street children, 34% are below 10 years of age; 60% are between 10 and 15 and 6% are over 15 years old. Amongst the children surveyed, 80% are working on the streets and 10% are living on the streets.
Laos is primarily a country of origin for human trafficking, with the primary destination to Thailand, although with increasing cases now to China. An overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are girls aged between 12-18 years and of these, 35% are believed to end up in forced prostitution.
Emergency situations and children
According to the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Laos experiences small –scale ongoing disasters, affecting over 10% of the population. Recurrent floods and draughts are considered the main hazards in addition to fires , landslides, erosion, typhoons, earthquakes and diseases epidemics. With 80% of people still living in rural areas with little road access during the wet season; and 60% of the population are under the age of 24 – children are greatly affected.
11.3% of children aged 5-14 years are estimated to be involved in some form of child labour in the Lao PDR
The use of corporal punishment in the home and in schools is common in the Lao PDR (corporal punishment in school is not yet prohibited by the law in Laos). Factors contributing to the use of corporal punishment include cultural attitudes which condone hitting children as the most effective way of disciplining them, coupled with the lack of training for teachers in alternative ways to manage children without resorting to corporal punishment.