Two young women experienced months of torture while working at a hostel in the Mon State capital, but found justice and a fresh start with the support of a social organisation.
By WONSA MON | FRONTIER
“I FIRST met Khin Mon at a Mawlamyine hospital in 2016. When I first saw her, I felt deeply sorry for her.”
Daw Thi Thi Nwe is the chairperson of Myittar Sonseeyar, a social organisation that is based in Shwe Myaing Thiri ward in the Mon State capital, Mawlamyine, and whose work is mostly in support of single mothers and children living with HIV.
She told Frontier that Ma Khin Mon, now aged 17, and her sister Ma Zin Mon, now 14, had experienced months of torture while working as maids at a hostel for girls next to Mawlamyine University and at the home of Daw Tin Pyone, the woman who oversaw their work and holds the catering contract at the university.
Khin Mon said that she and her sister worked together at Zin Min Nwe Hostel to raise funds to care for their father, who was sick. The sisters each earned K30,000 per month but were forced to work in slave-like conditions and were severely underfed, she said.
“I told [Tin Pyone] that I wouldn’t work anymore after four months. But she didn’t let me go. Instead, she took me to her home and asked me to work like a housemaid there, too,” Khin Mon told Frontier.
The sisters sometimes withdrew their salaries in advance to pay for their father’s treatment, and Tin Pyone then demanded that they pay this back with interest. They were also not allowed to leave even for short trips without permission.
The sisters tried to run away more than once, but were caught and either beaten or forced to stand naked in the sun in front of passing students at the university, Khin Mon said.
Another time, after they were accused of stealing oranges, they were both beaten and Khin Mon had boiling water poured on her.
Khin Mon was initially treated for her scald wounds at the home of Tin Pyone, but she was eventually taken to the Mawlamyine Christian Leprosy Hospital, which specialises in treating burns, scalds and skin diseases.
Khin Mon said that Tin Pyone and members of Tin Pyone’s family accompanied her to the hospital, where they told lies about what had happened to her.
“They said I slipped and fell down and was scalded with boiling water. And they didn’t let anyone else see me,” she said, unsure of whether the hospital staff were doing the bidding of Tin Pyone and her family. “I was locked in a room.”
However, Thi Thi Nwe, who was at the hospital to check up on several patients with HIV, came across Khin Mon and gained access to her room while a nurse was treating her scald wounds. She arranged for Khin Mon to be transferred to Mawlamyine General Hospital, but her younger sister Zin Mon was still confined in Tin Pyone’s home.
“She told us repeatedly that she wanted to see her sister,” Thi Thi Nwe said.
Tin Pyone and her family then began threatening Zin Mon, saying that if she tried to run away, they would sue her for stealing jewellery.
Thi Thi Nwe liaised with social organisations and government officials, including from the border affairs ministry, to free Zin Mon.
“We found it difficult when we tried to retrieve the younger sister. She didn’t dare come with us because she had been threatened she would be sent to jail for theft,” she said.
Zin Mon was eventually rescued and taken with her sister to Myittar Sonseeyar, on whose premises they still live, and a criminal complaint was filed against Tin Pyone’s daughter, Ma Aye Aye Soe, for scalding Khin Mon. The case was heard in the Mawlamyine Township Court, where the abusive family was unrepentant.
“When the sisters testified in court about how bad their experience had been, Tin Pyone shouted at the sisters, saying ‘I’ll kill you. You are ungrateful. You are insulting your benefactors.’ They dared to say that even in court,” said Thi Thi Nwe.
Aye Aye Soe was sentenced in May 2017 to seven years in prison under Section 326 of the Penal Code for “voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means”, and is currently in Mawlamyine Prison.
There are many known cases of young, vulnerable women working as housemaids and waiting staff across the country being subjected to harassment and torture. Frontier contacted the Department of Social Welfare for figures but did not get a response.
Myitta Sonseeyar, which operates only in Mon State, is currently supporting 10 torture victims whose alleged abusers are being tried in court. However, many more cases that the organisation has encountered have not gone to court, frequently because the survivors don’t want them to.
Khin Mon has since recovered from her wounds and the two sisters have found work with the support of Myitta Sonseeyar.
“The two sisters have been here for three years. We taught them the vocational skills they wanted. Now the younger sister is a tailor, and the elder sister works as a cook. They are earning an income,” said Thi Thi Nwe.
The names of the sisters have been changed because they wished to remain anonymous.