Fleeing From the Sex Trade

By Moe Myint 20 May 2016

RANGOON — Two weeks ago, three Arakanese women from Kyaukphyu Township in northern Arakan met in an unlikely place: Shweli, a Chinese town also known as Ruili, on the border with Burma.

The trio had been convinced to cross into China, lured by the promise of lucrative factory jobs in the border boomtown. They travelled by bus to Muse Township in Burma, and after crossing the border on a seven-day visa, they were ushered by smugglers to the Shwi Cott guest house where they stayed for a few days.

One day, Hnin Sandar Phyo, one of the Arakanese women, eavesdropped on the smugglers’ conversation.

“I was horrified,” said Hnin Sandar Phyo, a native of Taung Yin village, Kyaukphyu.

She heard them talking about a “virgin market” where the smugglers could earn four million kyats (US$3,415) and the youngest girl, Thuzar Khin, 17, was likely to bring in five million kyats. The smugglers said that the girls would be able to support their families with the money they earned from “marrying” the Chinese clients.

“I never expected this, because I trusted her,” she said.

“I didn’t know what to do and just cried the whole night,” said Thuzar Khin. “I missed my boyfriend. I didn’t tell him about my journey because I was coming to work [in China], not to marry a stranger.”

Hnin Sandar Phyo, 20, was also distraught.

“I immediately broke out in a cold sweat,” she said.

The three Arakanese girls decided to flee. In an unknown environment, surrounded by a foreign language, the only thing they knew to do was run.

“We left the guest house around 10 pm,” said Thuzar Khin. “We felt helpless because we couldn’t speak Chinese. Even asking for help was hard.”

Fortunately, they met with a Burmese man who runs a betel nut shop near the Shwi Cott guest house.

He brought them to his house to hide for the night. But they knew the traffickers were after them, and the following morning he took them to the Ruili-Muse border crossing and gave them money for bus tickets to Mandalay.

When they arrived in Mandalay, they were penniless. They begged a bus operator to let them go to Sittwe for free, and the kind-hearted man acquiesced.

The three girls reached Sittwe on May 15, and the bus driver called the human trafficking prevention department of the Sittwe Police. Police Col. Kyaw Nyunt met with the girls and launched an investigation into their case.

According to Kyaw Nyunt, the smugglers were Kyaukphyu residents who live in different neighborhoods. They approached the girls because they have relatives working in China, and they promised them a salary of US$150 per month to work in a Chinese factory. The girls were all from poor villages, and the prospects of a good job were very appealing.

After the police recorded the girls’ statements, they took them back to Kyaukphyu on a high-speed boat.

On May 18, local police apprehended four women—San San, Myint Myint Than, Hla Shwe and Ma Nay—and charged them with human trafficking.

Thuzar Khin said the traffickers should be jailed for “forty years,” adding, “[The traffickers] also have children, so they should have had empathy.”

But even bringing the traffickers to justice is unlikely to help Thuzar Khin overcome the trauma of the experience. She met her boyfriend at home on Thursday, but it was not the happy reunion she had expected.

“I wanted to tell him everything, but I couldn’t say anything.”