Ethnic Minorities in Southeast Asia - Children of the Mekong

Ethnic minorities

Ethnic groups in Southeast Asia

There are more than 350 ethnic minorities in the countries of Southeast Asia

They often continue to take pride in their traditional customs, dances and dress, which are much appreciated by tourists. 

But for historical reasons, or in the light of political, cultural or linguistic differences, they are often not recognised by the dominant ethnic group. Instead, they are frequently the victims of discrimination; families from ethnic minority groups are sometimes not even allowed to own land in their own homelands.

Ethnic minorities often live in remote mountainous areas which are backward and underdeveloped. The children speak their own ethnic dialects and find it difficult to master the official language used at school. Some groups have been subjected to campaigns of internal displacement and forced assimilation.

Our response

Children of the Mekong has been working alongside ethnic minorities for decades, finding local ways in which to improve the standard of living and to allow motivated children to get an education and thus to break the cycle of poverty

Our child sponsorship programme is doing just that, offering the opportunity to sponsor a child from an ethnic minority, and giving them the chance to get an education.

Sponsor a child now

  • The ethnic minority population of Thailand numbers more than 600,000 (Karen, Lahu, Moken…) – of whom 30% still do not have Thai nationality.
  • In Vietnam, 54 ethnic groups are officially recognised, comprising 14% of the population (Hmong, Jarai…).
  • In Myanmar, there are 148 ethnic minorities, of which only 135 are officially recognised. There is currently armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and several of these groups (Kachin, Shan, Rohingya, Karen…).
  • In Laos, only 49 of the 240 ethnic groups which exist are recognised by the government.
  • In the Philippines, legislation has been passed to protect the ethnic minority population of 12 million (Aeta, Ifugao, Higaonon) but discrimination is still rife.

Learn more about the Chin in Myanmar



  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Learn more about our privacy policy here.

Latest news and stories from Southeast Asia

Support Children of the Mekong’s initiatives for ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia.

Sponsor a child now