Scars on their arms, fingers, neck, face and feet illustrate how two teenaged girls were tortured for five years while being forced into domestic servitude in a downtown Rangoon household in Kyauktada Township.
Ma San Kay Khaing, 17, and Ma Tha Zin, 16, escaped their abusers on Sept. 5, they told The Irrawaddy, where they said they were treated like “slaves.” Ma San Kay Khaing was just 11 years old when she began to work for the family, and identified her abuser as one of the family’s daughters, Ma Su Mon Latt.
“She beat me a lot, almost every day. First, she beat me on my feet. When I could not finish my work at night, and I fell asleep, then she stabbed me with scissors in my arm. She stabbed me in my back, and in my neck. The louder I cried, the more she tortured me,” said San Kay Khaing.
She reported working through the night and being allowed to sleep from 6:00 a.m. until noon, before being forced to return to her work, which included taking care of a baby and washing all of the family’s clothes. She was locked in the house and paid just 15,000 kyat per month (US$12).
Ma Tha Zin was employed by the same family’s grandmother, Daw Tin Thuzar. She worked in a six-floor tailoring factory, called Ava. The two victims were friends, both hailing from Bawlonekwin village in Rangoon’s Kawhmu Township.
Referring to her abuser as “Grandma,” Ma Tha Zin said that the woman used a small pair of scissors to hurt her, although a scar on Tha Zin’s nose marks an occasion where the grandmother hit her in the face with a knife.
“Whenever she felt I did not wash the clothes properly, or did not cook well, then she beat me,” she said.
Ma Tha Zin said she only was given one meal per day, once all of her work was completed, and sometimes the meal consisted only of rice. She said that she slept with only one blanket and no pillow or mosquito net.
“Mosquitos bit me a lot while I slept. I spent 5 years like this,” Ma Tha Zin said.
The girls said that the family regularly paid them their monthly salary for the first two years of their employment, before cutting off communication with the girls’ families. After that point, for the next three years, whenever the families would phone and ask to meet their daughters, the employers said the girls had left.
“We called [the family] on the phone and asked them to let us see our children, but they told us that our children were not at home, and that they had just gone somewhere else,” said San Kay Khaing’s mother, Daw Nyo Nyo Win. “We went there, but we could not see our children.”
Two weeks ago, San Kay Khaing’s mother said that the Dala Township police station notified her of her daughter’s whereabouts, and asked her to pick her up.
“I was so happy to get my daughter back, but I cannot even think about compensation for how she has been tortured,” she said.
On Sept. 15, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) called the parents of the two young victims to meet the abusers at their office.
The MNHRC also invited Swe Win, the chief correspondent from the Myanmar Now news agency. He initially filed charges at the Kyauktada Township police station regarding the case three months earlier, after a member within the family notified him about the abuse of the girls and asked for help in rescuing them. When the police failed to take action, he said, he contacted the MNHRC.
“I told the commission about the rights abuse, but the police did not take action, even though I filed charges,” Swe Win said.
The MNHRC pushed for an investigation, which was led by Col U Than Aye.
U Than Aye said that the family keeping the girls had not allowed him to talk to them privately.
“I had suspicions at that time about the abuse of the two girls when I saw their appearance. I tried to investigate, but I could not do it,” he said.
The police issued a brief statement saying that Ma San Kay Khaing and Ma Tha Zin were exploited, tortured and treated like slaves. The statement suggested that legal action be taken based by the families of the victims or Swe Win, who originally filed charges.
Swe Win said that the police and the MNHRC had recommended that the victims’ families accept monetary compensation for the crime, since a legal fight would be lengthy and held no guarantee of justice.
The families acted on the recommendation, and the family accused of the abuse paid 4 million kyats to San Kay Khaing (US$3,235) and 1 million ($809) to Tha Zin. The amount included three years’ worth of salaries that had not been paid.
Swe Win was not happy with the compromise which was made, and said that the abusers were only convinced that they needed to pay the compensation after being threatened with legal action.
“I even told them to apologize to the two victims’ families. But they refused to do it. They said nothing to the families of the victims, and they just gave money,” Swe Win said.
He added there should be a punishment for the long-term abuse.
“The parents of the victims had no idea what to do. I was only there as an observer and I could not say anything,” he said. “It is very important to have justice based on the rule of law in a case like this. For me, I found it unfair to make a compromise like this.”
The three family representatives who attended the meeting did not admit to violating San Kay Khaing’s or Tha Zin’s rights. They did, however, say that they beat the two girls for “disrespect” and offered to provide evidence for how they violated house rules.
“They were just children,” Swe Win said. “If the family disliked the two children, they could have just sent them back.”
He added that he will not drop charges at the police station regarding the case against the family, and hopes to pursue further legal action.
“We need to fight for justice based on the laws of our country,” Swe Win said. “This is the only way to stop this.”