Myanmar & COVID-19

22 Child Laborers Freed From Myanmar Bakery Amid Reports of Severe Abuse

By Aung Thiha 23 November 2020

Yangon — The authorities in Yangon’s Dagon Seikkan Township have detained the owners of a bakery for alleged forced labor of more than 20 children, some of whom were as young as eight.

The bakery has ethnically Chinese owners and has been operating for around three years.

The case came to light when a 19-year-old sought the help of residents after suffering physical abuse by a 30-year-old supervisor, said U Win Htut, who helped him.

“Residents often saw [the owners] beat children. They didn’t intervene because they were not sure about their relationships. Only after [the 19-year-old] filed a complaint did organizations inspect and found other children at the bakery,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Kyaw Swar, who lives opposite the bakery, told The Irrawaddy on Friday: “That boy came to my house three days ago at midnight. He was shivering and asked me to get him to the authorities. The side of his face was swollen.”

On Thursday, administrative officials and the police searched the bakery. Crowds gathered and suggested more children could be hidden in the building. Police said no more children were found.

A total of 22 children were taken to Dagon Seikkan Township police station, according to Police Major Kyaw Swar of the township.

Neighbors said last year they witnessed the owners dragging two girls, who attempted to run away, on the street by their hair and beating their legs until they bled.

The wheels of two vans and a car belonging to the bakery were found destroyed on Thursday evening.

Daw Aye San, who lives behind the bakery, said she had only seen two boys going to the market and loading supplies.

The owners, according to those helping the children, have branches at 18 Street in Latha Township and South Dagon and East Dagon townships, where forced labor and torture of children have also been reported. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm those reports.

Police on Friday detained two men and three women who are believed to be the owners and supervisors of the bakery.

Major Kyaw Swar said: “The younger brother of the owner beat the 19-year-old for working too slowly. The 19-year-old has opened a case against them for abuse. Other children said they were not tortured. The General Administration Department, Social Welfare Department and township municipal committee inspected and found the business is operating without a license,” he said.

COVID-19 tests were carried out on the 22 children and the three staff who were taking care of them before handing them over to the social welfare department. Ten children tested positive for coronavirus, according to Dagon Seikkan public hospital.

Dagon Seikkan Health Department head Dr. Aye Muyar Kyaw told The Irrawaddy: “We will accommodate them at the social welfare department before they meet their parents. We needed to do COVID-19 tests and some of them tested positive.”

One boy and nine girls aged between 12 and 18 tested positive. “All the children, including those with COVID-19, are in good health,” said Dr. Aye Muyar Kyaw.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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