Report shines spotlight on ‘unspeakable abuse’ of trafficked women


YANGON — Harrowing accounts of women and girls taken to China and sold to men to make babies make for grim reading in a report on human trafficking in northern Myanmar by watchdog group, Human Rights Watch.

Among the survivors quoted in the report is an unnamed Kachin woman who was trafficked at 16 by her sister-in-law, taken across the border and held in a locked room for one or two months.

“When it was time for meals, they sent meals in. I was crying … each time when the Chinese man brought me meals, he raped me,” she told HRW.

The women was one of 37 survivors interviewed for the 112-page report, Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go: Trafficking of Kachin “Brides” from Myanmar to China, released on March 21.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

It quotes trafficking survivors as saying that trusted people, including family members, promised them jobs in China, but instead sold them for the equivalent of between US$3,000 (about K4.5 million) and $13,000 to Chinese families.

It was common for the women to be locked in a room and raped so they would become pregnant, the report says.

“Myanmar and Chinese authorities are looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse,” said HRW’s Ms Heather Barr, who wrote the report.

“The dearth of livelihoods and basic rights protections have made these women easy prey for traffickers, who have little reason to fear law enforcement on either side of the border,” she said.

The report quotes survivors as saying Chinese families often seemed more interested in having a baby than a “bride”. Trafficked women were sometimes able to escape their captors after giving birth, but usually at the emotional cost of leaving their child behind with little hope of seeing it again. After returning to Myanmar, survivors grapple with trauma and stigma as they try to build their lives, and there is a paucity of services to support them, the report says.

HRW said many of the trafficking survivors interviewed for the report were from the more than 100,000 people displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states and living in camps.

The report said there was a shortage of woman in China because of a preference for boys that was exacerbated by the “one-child policy” implemented between 1979 and 2015.

“Some families cope with the lack of marriageable women by buying trafficked women or girls,” it said.

It was difficult to estimate the number of women and girls being trafficked as brides to China, HRW said. The Myanmar government had reported 226 cases in 2017, but the real number was believed to be much higher.

HRW said it had found that law enforcement officers in China and Myanmar, including officials of the Kachin Independence Organization, had made little effort to recover trafficked women and girls.

“Families seeking police help were turned away repeatedly, often told that they would have to pay before police would act. Women and girls who escaped and went to the Chinese police were sometimes jailed for immigration violations rather than being treated as crime victims,” the report says.

It quotes an unnamed trafficking expert as saying that corruption was an obstacle to enforcing Myanmar’s anti-trafficking laws.

“Brokers are never arrested because they can pay a bribe and can always escape. Police and courts and border guards are all accepting bribes,” the expert told HRW in an interview in Yangon early last year.

Barr urged the Myanmar and Chinese governments, as well as the KIO, to do more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims and prosecute traffickers. “Donors and international organizations should support the local groups that are doing the hard work that governments won’t to rescue trafficked women and girls and help them recover,” she said.

The report quotes an unnamed foreign diplomat based in Myanmar as saying the services available for trafficking survivors were “totally inadequate”.

The diplomat said the Department of Social Welfare was well-regarded, “but they just don’t have the resources to do anything. They are under-resourced to the point of dysfunction.”

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar