Two ethnic Shan women who were trafficked and sold as wives to Chinese men before being released in 2008 have now approached an UN agency to demand for help in rescuing the remaining victims.
Six women in total from Burma’s northeastern Shan state were sold for US$1,200 by a ring of Burmese human traffickers in 2008: three reportedly remain with their captors in China, while the third women released has since died of AIDS-related diseases.
The two now back in Burma are filing a report to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which has offices in Rangoon. Previous reports filed to the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation and local police in Shan state were fruitless. Thet Wei, chairman of a Rangoon-township National League for Demcoracy (NLD) committee, is helping the women.
“All six were sold to become wives. [The traffickers] tricked them into going to China by promising jobs that pay 80,000 kyat [US$80] per month. After they arrived in China, they were sold to the Chinese men to become their wives,” he said.
It was only when relatives of three of the women travelled to China to confront the captors that they were released. The relatives reportedly cited the harsh penalties that China carries for human traffickers: in the past year, Beijing has returned more than 300 Burmese trafficking victims.
Julia Marip, of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), said that about 60 percent of these were women sold for forced marriages, out of an estimated total of 50,000 women each year bought by Chinese men.
“If you look at the root of the human trafficking problem, you’ll see that [Burma] is in a very bad situation with economic downfall and poverty. These issues must be dealt with first in order to effectively handle the human trafficking problem,” she said.
Burma became one of the signatory countries to the UN Anti-Human Trafficking agreement in early 2004,. The country also has its own anti-human trafficking laws, which at the of June this year saw a racket in Magwe division’s Chauk township being handed 15-years prison sentences for selling a 16-year-old girl to Chinese men.
A US report in 2009 said that trafficking of Burmese women into forced marriages was “a major problem”, although the UN’s resident coordinator in Burma, Bishow Parajuli, said in January this year that the Southeast Asian pariah had made good progress in the past six years.
China and Malaysia remain the top destinations for women sold as wives to men. The US report cited statistics released by the ILO that estimate that at least 12.3 million people worldwide are in forced labour, bonded labour or commercial sexual exploitation.