Af­ter years of en­slave­ment, abused child maids look to the fu­ture

The Myanmar Times - - News - SHOON NAING shoonnaing@gmail.com

THE teenager stares at her crip­pled hands, bro­ken af­ter tor­ture tech­niques en­dured over five years of life as a slave.

“I want to con­tinue my stud­ies when my hands are re­cov­ered,” she said.

Ma Ma San Kay Khine, 16, is one of two for­mer slaves freed af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Yan­gon’s Kyauk­tada town­ship. The girls left their vil­lage five years ago and came to Yan­gon to help sup­port their fam­i­lies. They had to leave school to be­come house­maids at the age of 11 and 12 to earn as lit­tle as K15,000 a month.

“I stud­ied un­til 2nd Stan­dard at my vil­lage school and I went to Yan­gon to work as a maid when the school closed for the sum­mer. I never went back,” said Ma San Kay Khine.

Earn­ing money in the big city was not as easy as the girls ex­pected. But they never imag­ined how ter­ri­ble the ex­pe­ri­ence would be.

“They bent my fin­gers back one af­ter an­other and told me to shut up when I cried. So I didn’t dare cry,” said Ma San Kay Khine, her face ex­pres­sion­less.

The years of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse that en­sued at the Ava tai­lor­ing shop in­cluded at­tacks with scis­sors and heated blades. The girls, whose bod­ies still bear the scars, said they would be beaten when­ever their em­ploy­ers thought they weren’t work­ing hard enough. They were beaten when­ever the chil­dren they cared for cried.

The case was first re­ported in June by Myan­mar Now chief correspondent Ko Swe Win, who filed a case with the Kyauk­tada town­ship po­lice. When the po­lice failed to act, Ko Swe Win re­ferred the mat­ter to the Myan­mar Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion. When he found that the com­mis­sion had tried to re­solve the mat­ter with a quiet cash pay­out in­stead of bring­ing crim­i­nal charges, Ko Swe Win went public last month. The rev­e­la­tions were widely cov­ered in local me­dia, prompt­ing public out­rage and the sub­se­quent ar­rest of the de­fen­dants.

The Yan­gon Re­gion anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing unit has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the trial has been go­ing on since the end of last month. Po­lice Cap­tain Myo Thein of the anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing unit told The Myan­mar Times that his unit had been alerted to the case via so­cial me­dia.

By the time the case opened, the girls were in hos­pi­tal un­der the care of the Min­istry of Wel­fare, Re­lief and Re­set­tle­ment and re­united with their fam­i­lies. Sur­geons op­er­ated on Ma San Kay Khine’s right arm and the fin­gers of her right hand on Oc­to­ber 5. The hos­pi­tal is not charg­ing the girls for the treat­ment, said the lead sur­geon, Dr Khin Maung Myint of Yan­gon Gen­eral.

“I checked her this morn­ing. Her con­di­tion is good and she is per­form­ing phys­i­cal ex­er­cises well,” he told The Myan­mar Times on Oc­to­ber 18.

Dur­ing a meet­ing with a re­porter last month, Ma San Kay Khine could barely mum­ble her name. She an­swered in mono­syl­la­bles, and did not seem to know her age.

Thazin, though also scarred with sev­eral wounds and in­juries caused by sharp ob­jects, ap­pears to have with­stood the tor­ment bet­ter than Ma San Kay Khine.

Asked their views on the ar­rest of their al­leged tor­tur­ers, nei­ther said much, but both smiled.

Child do­mes­tic work­ers as young as 11 years old can be seen all over Myan­mar.

Since 2014, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Myan­mar has un­der­taken a project called Myan­mar Pro­gram on the Elim­i­na­tion of Child Labour (MyPEC). Ac­cord­ing to the ILO’s web­site, this pro­gram is aimed at re­duc­ing child labour.

U Myint Aye, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Hu­man Rights De­fend­ers and Pro­mot­ers or­gan­i­sa­tion, which pro­motes aware­ness of uni­ver­sal hu­man rights and the rights of the abused, spoke to The Myan­mar Times about tor­ture.

“No one should be sub­jected to tor­ture by any­one. Tor­ture is some­thing we have to fight. The po­lice must not tor­ture, a fam­ily must not tor­ture their house­maids and a boss must not tor­ture work­ers,” he said.

Aaron Green­berg, chief of child pro­tec­tion at UNICEF Myan­mar, said child pro­tec­tion sys­tems had to be made a key part of the gov­ern­ment’s re­form agenda.

“Child pro­tec­tion has gained mo­men­tum in Myan­mar over re­cent years, not so much be­cause of the num­ber of cases of vi­o­lence re­ported, but out of aware­ness that it was a glar­ing gap in ad­dress­ing child rights in the coun­try,” he said.

“The public out­cry around the case of the two girls shows that the public is not will­ing to tol­er­ate such abuse, and sends a strong sig­nal that peo­ple are will­ing to play their part in pro­tect­ing every child in Myan­mar.”

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw Sein, a pro­fes­sor and rec­tor of psy­chol­ogy at Mawlamyine Univer­sity, said the girls must be suf­fer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal as well as phys­i­cal pain.

“First of all, they will lose trust in peo­ple, and may be afraid to go to work. They will never be free of the worry about the dan­gers of work,” he said.

These two teenage maids were iso­lated from their fam­i­lies and en­dured years of abuse in Kyauk­tada town­ship, one of Yan­gon’s busiest neigh­bour­hoods. If two girls can be en­slaved for five years in the mid­dle of the city, how many more are in dan­ger across Yan­gon’s other 30 town­ships?

Photo: AFP

Ma San Kay Khine, a 17-year-old Myan­mar child maid, shows her scarred arms and twisted fin­gers while re­cov­er­ing in her fam­ily’s vil­lage in Kawhmu town­ship out­side of Yan­gon.

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