Woman found after 40-year enslavement

The family of a woman who went missing more than 40 years ago at the age of nine say she has been found after decades spent locked in a shed at the back of a house in Pegu division.

Tin Tin Aye, now in her 50s, is said to be suffering severe trauma as a result of her imprisonment. Her family claims she has the mental age of a child and blindness in her right eye, which is spreading to her left. She claims she was never let out of the woodshed or the kitchen during her four decades at the house.

The nine-year-old had been imprisoned by Kyin Lwan, a teacher in Daik Oo,whose daughter Daw Ohn had taken on Tin Tin Aye for adoption when her mother became widowed. Daw Ohn had died shortly after adopting the girl, and so Kyin Lwan assumed responsibility.

The exact date of the incident is not known, but is estimated to be around 1970. Tin Tin Aye’s father had died shortly before the adoption and her mother, Hla Min, passed away several years later. When relatives went to Kyin Lwan’s house to break the news of her mother’s death, they were told that the child was no longer there.

Unbeknownst to them, Tin Tin Aye had been locked in the shed at the back of the house that Kyin Lwan shared with two other women, and which lay across the road from the busy Daik Oo market. They left empty-handed, and she wasn’t seen again for four decades.

Three years ago, the family made several attempts to track down Tin Tin Aye, who was by then a middle-aged woman. Her cousin returned to Kyin Lwan’s house under the pretext of buying scrap metal, but nothing came of it. Then in the middle of last year the cousin, Hla Myint, sent his young daughter to a private tuition session at the house. The girl found a woman sitting in a room and when she called out Tin Tin Aye’s name, the woman responded.

“The family knew there was a non-Chinese person living in that house so they assumed it had to be her [Tin Tin Aye],” said a local resident of Daik Oo, referring to the fact that the three homeowners were ethnic Chinese. “After [Tin Tin Aye responded], the girl came back to her father before the tuition finished and told him what she saw.”

By August 2010, Tin Tin Aye’s remaining family had reported the discovery to local authorities, who arranged a meeting between them and Kyin Lwan, who is now 72. When Hla Myint asked Tin Tin Aye about the ordeal, she responded that she had been well looked after.

The family says however that her current condition is not that of a person who has lived a healthy life: she appears to be suffering from acute social anxiety and often refuses to communicate with people, maintaining a very reclusive lifestyle. She has never used money and claims never to have seen a Buddhist shrine which are commonplace in Burma.

Following the refusal of local authorities in Daik Oo to handle the case, the family filed a lawsuit with a local court which then referred them onto police. The police heard the testimonies of Hla Myint and Tin Tin Aye’s younger sister, Than Than Htay, and informed them that the case had been transferred again to the local Myanmar Women’s Affair Federation (MWAF), which is run by the Burmese government.

Tin Tin Aye was returned to her family on 26 August last year. They claim however that the MWAF failed to take any action on Kyin Lwan, instead forcing them to sign a document acknowledging the gratitude they owe Kyin Lwan for returning Tin Tin Aye unharmed.

“They came and reported about it here but later agreed not to further the case if they got their sister back, so she was returned to them,” said an official at Daik Oo police station.

They are now filing various complaints to the head of the government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, Sit Aye, Senior General Than Shwe, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and all 18 concerned government departments. The case has so far been heard twice in Thanutbin and Daik Oo towns.

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