Facts on Burma

Facts on Burma

The Population

  • In 2014, the first official census since 1983 was conducted. It included nearly 98% of the population including populations and people who had never before been counted in an official census.
  • There are 51,486,253 people living in Burma. This includes the 1,206,353 people who were not enumerated in the census.They come from areas within Rakhine, Kachin, and Karen States. Reasons for this include self-identifying as an ethnic group not recognized by the government (Rohingya Muslims) and living near areas with actual or potential armed conflict.
  • Burma had over 135 nationally recognized ethnic groups making it one of the most diverse countries in Asia. Burmar make up almost ⅔ of the population, and other ethnic groups (including Shans, Karens, Mon, Arakan, Chin and Kachins) add up to some 30%.
  • Ethnic minorities are dominant in border and mountainous areas including: Shan in the north and northeast (Thai and Laos borders), Karen in the southeast (Thai border), and Kachin in the far north (China border).
  • The population is 51.8% female and 48.2% male.
  • 28.6% are under 15 years old. More than half are less than 28 – 51.5%.
  • 90% of the people are Buddhist, 4% Christian, 4% Muslim, 2% Hindu.
  • The population growth rate is declining and is currently at 89%.
  • According to the census, nearly half of those employed stated they worked in agriculture, forestry and fishing. In Karen State, 60.7% stated they worked in these industries.

The Government

  • Burma was a British colony from the 1800s through WWII with a brief Japanese invasion during the war.
  • In 1948 Burma has a Prime Minister.
  • 1962 sees a military coup. Burma was then a single-party state. The military rule was harsh.
  • Minorities faced increasing restrictions and political exclusion. This escalated to armed conflict with various ethnic groups.
  • Pushes for democracy in 1988 and 2007 were brutally repressed.
  • The junta denounced the results of democratic elections in 1990, won by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
  • The 2008 constitution guarantees 25% of seats in Parliament to the Military and prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from being elected as leader of the country.
  • The military holds power until 2011 with new elections that begin to give power back to civilians.
  • Held November 8, 2015, the NLD won 85% of seats at the national and regional elections, and the military officially transferred some power to a more civilian government.
  • Though a 1982 citizenship law kept her from running for president, the NLD is headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • The election was seen as “most credible for over half a century”. Even so, the Citizenship Law also kept those who identify as Rohingya Muslims from running, and nearly 1,000,000 people were unable to vote.
  • Several ministries are still controlled by the military including Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defense.
  • According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 147 out of 168 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be.

Human Rights Violations

  • The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report dropped Burma from the second lowest tier to the lowest. The report calls Burma a “source country” for human traffickers. Many Burmese have found themselves victims of sex and labor traffickers and well as experience forced labor within Burma.
  • A Buddhist extremist group calling themselves Ma Ba Tha lobbied the government into passing the Population Control Laws. These laws were largely created to “protect” Buddhists from the Muslim minority and discriminate against Muslims and women.
  • Over 2 million people from Burma live as migrant workers in Thailand (the vast majority as illegal migrants).
  • More than 300,000 Burmese have been displaced or forcibly relocated for the Tasang Dam since 1996. This is one of several such cases of displacement due to hydroelectric dams.
  • The World Health Organization ranked Burma’s health sector 190 out of 191 countries.
  • Burma’s minimum wage is 3600 kyat (approx. $2.90) for a 8 hour work day.
  • 26% of the population lives below the poverty line.
  • Human rights violations are frequent and common.


    • According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 110,000 refugees still live in 9 camps on the Thai border. Talks of repatriating refugees in Thailand are ongoing and relocation is coming closer.
    • Though the situation in Burma is improving, many refugees fear returning. Continued armed conflict, landmines, and lack of stability and infrastructure are cited as reasons for this fear.
    • The transfer to a more civilian government, increased international assistance in the country. Refugees still in Thailand are feeling the strain as previous support moves into Burma.
    • Within Burma, IDMC reports that as of March 2015 there are up to 662,400 internally displaced people. Much of this is a result of armed conflict and natural disasters.
    • Nearly 100,000 people have departed for third countries since resettlement began.Of those living in refugee camps in Thailand, 33.5% are not registered with UNHCR and cannot apply for resettlement.
    • None of the countries harboring large refugee populations from Burma have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Several have changed their policies, at the cost of the rights of asylum seekers, in order to cultivate better relations with the Burmese government.

  • The country is in the process of creating a new ministry: the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.


  • “Health in Burma is another casualty of decades of military misrule, ethnic conflict, centralized decision making, and the exodus of qualified health professionals.” BPHWT 2015 report.
  • Lack of health care is an even greater problem for the 100,000s of IDPs living in the country and for ethnic populations who may live days away from the nearest health center.
  • According to the Ministry of Health, in 2014 – 2015, 3.38% of total government spending went towards healthcare.
  • Average life expectancy in Burma is 66.8 years. Women 69.9 and men 63.9. It is among the lowest of the region. Karen State life expectancy, 67.3 years.
  • Malaria deaths and mortality rates in Burma are the highest in SE Asia.
  • 35% of all children under the age of 5 are moderately stunted due to malnutrition.
  • HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are considered epidemics.
  • Local understanding of sanitation and hygiene remains low in areas. This naturally leads to high levels of associated diseases such cholera and diarrhea, among others diseases.
  • Burma has a fertility rate of 2.29.
  • The maternal mortality rate 200 of 100,000 is the second highest in region.
  • According to the Ministry of Health 80% of births were attended by a trained attendant.
  • According to the recent census, the infant mortality rate is 62. Karen State is slightly lower at 60.
  • Many of these deaths are preventable and include diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria, and acute respiratory infections.
  • The government hopes to have Universal Health Coverage by 2030.


  • In the mid 19th century, Burma had one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. During military rule, students were one of the biggest opponents of the government. The government responded with arrests and closed universities. Only opening them with a controlled curriculum. University professors were restricted in freedom of speech, political activity, and publications.
  • The World Bank reported .77% of the GDP went towards education in 2011. Spending in this area is still very lacking.
  • School is only compulsory for 5 years between ages 5 and 9.
  • During the compulsory years, school costs are supposed to be met by the government. However, schools are poorly equipped. The cost of the education must then be met by the family and may be the equivalent of half a month’s wage or more. Families living hand to mouth may find this staggering
  • Boys tend to be chosen over girls if there is not enough money for all children in a family.
  • 88% of children attend primary school. Of this, 54% will complete high school.
  • According to the 2014 census, of people 15 years and over, 89.5% can read and write. In Karen State the percentage is significantly less, 74.4%.
  • In all states and regions males have a higher literacy rate than females.

The Military

  • Military spending is on a downward trajectory but still a very significant percentage of the GDP. In 2015 it was 13.4%. In 2016 this number is expected to decrease to 13%.
  • The Burmese Army also know as the Tatmadaw is estimated to have between 300,000 and 350,000 members. Though no official numbers are released.
  • In areas with large ethnic populations, reports of the military confiscating land for various uses have continued as has forced labor and rape.
  • Of 15 prominent non-state armed groups, 8 signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Burmese Army in October 2015.
  • Armed conflict still continues in several regions of Burma. The NCA has also been broken several times with little fanfare.
  • In 2002 Burma had the highest instance of child soldiers in the world. The Tatmadaw has released more than 700 soldiers conscripted while under 18 since 2012. There is no available estimate on how many child soldiers are still in the army.
  • Ethnic armed forces also conscript minors into their armies.
  • According the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, sexual violence increases in areas with a high military presence.
  • The use of landmines

    • In September of 2016 a Major General admitted that the Tatmadaw still uses and produces mines for combat.
    • Mines contaminate at least nine out of 14 states and divisions in the country.
    • The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has recorded 3,745 people having been injured or killed by landmines between 1999 and 2014.
    • It is currently believed that 70 percent of the 2,000 kilometre border with Thailand is mined.
    • No humanitarian mine clearance programs are active in Burma.
    • However, in September 2016 the Army and armed groups in Karen State were in discussions to work together and remove mines from proposed areas of refugee relocation in Karen State.

Karen Conflict Timeline


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