The ups and downs of Myan­mar’s Fer­ris wheel work­ers

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - LIL­LIAN KALISH

ONLY the bravest fes­ti­val go­ers dare to ride the hu­man-pow­ered Fer­ris wheels at Yae Kyaw’s Thad­ingyut fes­ti­val each year in Oc­to­ber. Fer­ris wheel work­ers call out to the crowd, coax­ing both thrill-seek­ers and the faint of heart alike to take a spin, as a troupe of boys, dressed in the same monochro­matic uni­forms, phys­i­cally turn the Fer­ris wheel un­til it reaches its top speed.

Though the ride in it­self is quite scary, what’s more fright­en­ing is the startling lack of safety reg­u­la­tions as these boys – pro­tected only by their own wits – scam­per up and down rust­ing metal frames, perch­ing them­selves above the whirling seats all seem­ingly with­out any fear.

The morn­ing of Oc­to­ber 18, fol­low­ing the last night of the full moon fes­ti­val, the Fer­ris wheel troupe and con­struc­tion work­ers dis­man­tle the re­main­ing pieces of the ride and get ready to clear out for the next car­ni­val in Yuzana in Dagon Seikken town­ship later this year.

Fif­teen year old Than Zaw said he has been op­er­at­ing Fer­ris wheels at car­ni­vals and fes­ti­vals across the coun­try for the past four years.

“At first, I was scared,” he says briefly, load­ing up the truck. “But now I am used to it.”

Than Zaw is just one of the many boys work­ing for the trav­el­ling troupes, plucked from their re­spec­tive vil­lages in all of Myan­mar’s states and re­gions.

As con­struc­tion work­ers pass by car­ry­ing long metal poles, a former Fer­ris wheel worker turned troupe or­gan­iser, 22-year-old Ye Lin Mon, ex­plains the em­ploy­ment process for these fes­ti­vals.

“On our way down, the boys are trained be­fore they work,” Ye Lin Mon, who originally comes from Aye­yarwady Re­gion, said. “I am the or­gan­iser. I know which parts work and who has to do what job.”

The Myan­mar Times asked him about the youngest age of his work­ers as the boys ap­pear to be quite young.

He claimed the youngest of his work­ers were 16 years old though Than Zaw, who spoke just be­fore him, re­sponded say­ing he is only 15 years old.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion, child labour is as any kind of labour that “de­prives chil­dren (any per­son un­der 18) of their child­hood” through work that re­quires them to leave school or puts them in phys­i­cal dan­ger.

“The op­er­a­tion of hu­man­pow­ered Fer­ris wheels by chil­dren un­der 18 can pose a risk to their safety and well-be­ing, de­pend­ing on the spe­cific work they do,” said Aaron Green­berg, chief of the child pro­tec­tion at UNICEF Myan­mar.

“It is im­por­tant that the haz­ardous forms of labour are clearly de­fined in Myan­mar and aware­ness rais­ing is con­ducted with the gen­eral pub­lic in­clud­ing those op­er­at­ing small and large busi­nesses,” Green­berg added.

When asked if there are ever any ac­ci­dents in­volved in this line of work, the or­gan­iser was curt. “No one is in­jured in this.”

His se­ri­ous­ness is telling. These men don’t have time to talk; they are hes­i­tant to an­swer ques­tions; they have to pack up and go to the next fes­ti­val.

“This is how I make my liv­ing, how I earn my money. It is also kind of fun,” Ye Lin Mon says with a half smile.

Child labour is per­va­sive through­out Myan­mar – the sit­u­a­tion is un­likely to change with­out a se­ri­ous crack­down and en­force­ment of child labour laws.

In an hour’s time, the Fer­ris wheel boys, the or­gan­iser, and their truck stacked with a dis­as­sem­bled wheel, much like the rest of the char­ac­ters in Yae Kyaw’s fes­ti­val, will be gone with­out a trace to the next des­ti­na­tion.

Photos: EPA

A young Fer­ris wheel worker leans against the frame.

Dur­ing Thad­ingyut and other hol­i­days, troupes of young boys power the Fer­ris wheels by hand.

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