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More than 130 cases of human trafficking of ethnic Kachin have been documented along the China-Burma borderin the past year, according to a monitoring group that lays the blame on widespread poverty in Burma brought about by decades of military rule.
Mary Laban, spokesperson of the Thailand-based Kachin Women’s Association (KWA), said that the phenomenon may be on the increase as trafficking rackets prey on vulnerable men and women.
“According to the latest information we have received, some parents are selling their own daughters to human traffickers for 12,000 to 13,000 Chinese Yuan [around $US1,800],” she continued, adding that families were resorting to ever more desperate attempts to pay off debts.
China is one of the largest recipients of trafficked Burmese, although humantrafficking.org says figures are also high for Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, South Korea, Macau, and Pakistan.
The KWA claims that the majority of ethnic Kachin taken to China, including children, are sold into the prostitution industry or as brides for Chinese men. Kachin state in the north of Burma shares a long and porous border with China.
A US State Department report in 2006 estimated the number of trafficked Burmese to be several thousand a year. N that same year, the Burmese government convicted 53 people on trafficking charges.
The former ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) had on several occasions pledged to stamp out the trade, as well as signing Memorandums of Understanding with Thailand to coordinate responses to the crisis. Evidence of success has however been slim.
Laban said that governmental education initiatives on the dangers of trafficking have been “weak”, partly because most of the material is written in Burmese, while many of the victims are from ethnic minority groups.
“Education alone will not end this problem,” she however warned. “There should be job creation for those young women” so they are not forced into exploitative industries.
Corruption has also played a major part, with Burmese officials known to be complicit in the lucrative trade.
Thailand’s labour ministry said this week that trafficking rackets will becoming the target of a crackdown by authorities as Bangkok looks to rein in the flow of illegal workers into the country.