Ta-ang Girls Return From Yangon Nunnery Showing Signs of Torture 

By The Irrawaddy 23 February 2023

Five ethnic Ta’ang girls from a group being educated at a Buddhist nunnery in Yangon Region have arrived back in Shan State showing signs of torture.

The girls, aged 10 to 14, were severely abused by a senior nun at Thukhitaryarma nunnery in Yangon’s Kyauktan Township, according to their parents.

They added that two of the victims had to be treated in hospital after returning to their home township of Kyaut Mae in northern Shan State earlier this month.

Sixteen girls left their homes in Khon Ngin and Kyaung Khan villages in April last year in the care of a Ta’ang nun. The nun told the parents that their children would be educated at the Yangon monastery as novice nuns.

But the girls said that instead of being schooled, they were forced into hard labor on the nunnery construction site by the assistant abbess, Daw Eaindra Thiri. They were beaten if they fell sick and were not able to work, they added.

The novices said they were also forced to wander the streets of Yangon asking passersby for cash donations, all of which had to be returned to the nun in charge. Those who refused were bound with rope as a punishment.

Five of the 16 girls – Lway Mya Aung, 11, her younger sister Lway Mya Han, 9, Lway Win Khaing, 14, Lway Nwan Khan, 9, and Nan Li (age unknown) – arrived back in Shan State suffering ill health and various wounds.

Left: Lway Mya Aung has to rely on support from others as she is unable to walk because of her injuries. Right: Lway Win Khaing shows wounds on her arms. / Shwe Phee Myay

Lway Mya Aung is emaciated and can’t even walk properly, said her father U Kyaw Khin. She also had wounds from being tied up with a rope and was unable even to hold his waist as he carried her home by motorcycle, he added.

“Her condition now is completely different from when we sent her away. Our daughter was in good health and she didn’t have any health issues before she went to the Yangon nunnery,” U Kyaw Khin told The Irrawaddy.

“When I saw her, I was so devastated that I didn’t know what to say,” he added.

Wounds from ‘frequent beatings’  

Lway Mya Aung and Lway Nwan Khan had to be hospitalized on February 20. Lway Mya Aung remains in hospital.

Lway Nwan Khan, from Khon Ngin village, had wounds on her legs and thighs from frequent beatings she received at the nunnery, according to villagers.

They said the other two victims, Lway Win Khaing and Nan Li, also had injuries from being tortured.

Daw Eaindra Thiri poses with girl novices at Thukhitaryarma nunnery in Yangon’s Kyauktan Township.

U Kyaw Khin said his daughter was also forced to eat her own feces and beaten when she refused.

“She was very weak and unhealthy, so couldn’t control her bodily functions and could no longer clean herself up. And then she was treated like this,” he said.

“My daughter said she was sick and fainting. However, she was beaten with a brick and accused of faking illness and being lazy. She and the other novice nuns were also tied with cable the whole day and denied any food. They were being treated like this very frequently,” U Kyaw Khin explained, citing testimony from his daughter.

The Irrawaddy contacted Daw Eaindra Thiri’s mobile phone at least five times but she didn’t answer the calls.

Parents of 11 remaining girls anxious 

U Aung Htoo, 46, a resident of Kyaung Khan village and father of two of the 11 girls who are still at the nunnery, is concerned after hearing the reports of abuse. He sent his two daughters, Cherry Khaing, 10, and Lway Mo Mo, 11, to the nunnery last year.

“We are really worried about our children,” he said.

The nunnery called him in early February and said his daughters were happy and would not be returned home.

We don’t believe their words,” Aung Htoo told The Irrawaddy.

Another parent, Kyaw Khaing, 42, said he wasn’t able to contact his 13-year-old daughter Nay Win Hlaing at the nunnery after he heard about the five returnees.

“I am afraid my daughter may be being abused in Yangon. We have called the abbess, but her phone is switched off,” he said.

Ta’ang agencies contact nunnery

Representatives from the Ta’ang Sangha and Ta’ang Literature and Culture organizations held talks with nunnery officials on February 20. They agreed to send back the other 11 nuns to their parents, according to Sayardaw Taikkhany‌arna, secretary of the Ta’ang Sangha (central).

The nunnery must also pay the medical expenses of the victims, the monk added.

Sayardaw said the treatment of the novice nuns would be investigated when the abbess sends back the remaining 11 girls to Kyaut Mae Township. The investigation may lead to legal action, he added.

“We strongly condemn this abuse, which came to our attention via social media. There might be other cases of abuse we don’t know about,” Sayardaw told The Irrawaddy.

Exactly when the 11 remaining girls will be sent back from the nunnery is still not known. However, the parents are anxious to see their children return as soon as possible.

“We miss them every day. All of us are looking forward to the day they will return,” Aung Htoo said.