In a heartbreaking revelation that brings to fore the plight of the residents of conflict-hit borderlands, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, has said that numerous young girls and women from Myanmar's Kachin state are trafficked to China each year and sold as brides in the country. The women are sold to men, who are not really looking for wives and just want the women to bear children for them.
The report titled "Give Us a Baby and We'll Let You Go" explains that the demand for these women has risen due to China's "one-child policy" and illegal sex-selection, which has resulted in a dearth of women in the East Asian country. It has earlier been said that China has 33 million lesser women than men.
The report goes on to add that traffickers usually earn between $3,000 and $13,000 selling women to Chinese families and the women are repeatedly raped until they are pregnant. "Once trafficked women and girls gave birth to a baby, they were sometimes able to escape their captors, but usually at the cost of leaving their child behind with little hope of seeing the child again," the report said.
How does trafficking work?
An earlier report had suggested that many of these unions are arranged by the women's parents and other family members. The women "cannot say no to their parents," Moon Nay Li of Kachin Women's Association told the Agence France-Presse adding that they then have no other choice once "traffickers and agents have given money to their parents."
Younger women often command a higher price and are sold to older, sick, or disabled men in rural areas. Once they bear children, they are forced out or sold on to new husbands. Some women even manage to return home but are often trafficked once again.
Women detail their ordeal
A woman, identified as Seng Moon, was living as a refugee in an internal displaced person (IDP) camp in northeastern Myanmar. Her sister-in-law is said to have convinced her to move to China, where she could find herself a job. Once in the car, she was given a pill to prevent motor sickness and she fell asleep immediately.
However, all her dreams came crashing down when she woke up to see that she was a captive and her hands were tied behind her back. "I cried and shouted and asked for help," the HRW report quoted Seng as saying, but by then she was already in the Chinese territory. Her sister-in-law then left her with a Chinese family, resurfacing months later and telling her: "Now you have to get married to a Chinese man." Seng was then taken to another house.
"My sister-in-law left me at the home. ...The family took me to a room. In that room I was tied up again. ...They locked the door—for one or two months.... Each time when the Chinese man brought me meals, he raped me...," Seng said. "After two months, they dragged me out of the room. The father of the Chinese man said, "Here is your husband. Now you are a married couple. Be nice to each other and build a happy family."
The "husband" reportedly continued to abuse her and seven months later she became pregnant. She gave birth to a baby boy and asked to go home. To her surprise, the husband said: "No one plans to stop you. If you want to go back home, you can. But you can't take my baby."
However, months later she managed to escape and cross over to Myanmar with the help of a Kachin woman. While Seng managed to sneak away from the baby with her, there are said to be hundreds of women who had no choice but to leave their babies behind not knowing if they will even see the children again.
The HRW interviewed 37 other women for the report, and they too narrated similar horrific stories. A survivor said that she was, in fact, raped by the broker himself.
"The original broker had gone, and a second broker came and showed me to the men and asked me which one I liked. When I said I didn't like any of the men, the broker slapped me. This continued for a few days and I kept refusing," she said. "Then the broker raped me. The broker got mad -- to calm himself down at night he raped me. It was a violent rape. When I didn't take off my clothes he beat me."
Another woman, who was interviewed for the earlier study, had also told researchers W. Courtland Robinson and Moon that she had been trafficked three times until now and "pushed into giving birth" each time.
Survivors in Myanmar
Things do not get easier even once these women go back home to Myanmar and they are often known to face trauma and severe social stigma. They do not have access to facilities in Kachin and struggle to rebuild their lives.
"Most victims face terrible situations. They come back, and they are totally different from us," a Kachin Women's Association official told HRW. "They are just gazing, staring ... People who just came back don't even dare to go outside and show their faces ...They feel guilty for being (trafficked)."
No government initiatives
The Chinese and the Myanmar government have reportedly not taken any steps to curb trafficking, due to which traffickers are known to be boldly operating in the region. Heather Barr, acting women's rights co-director at Human Rights Watch, said that the governments of these nations have been "looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse."
She went on to add that the survivors must be supported and the government and other organisations must take steps to assist them.
"The Myanmar and Chinese governments, as well as the Kachin Independence Organization, should be doing much more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and prosecute traffickers," she added. "Donors and international organizations should support the local groups that are doing the hard work that governments want to rescue trafficked women and girls and help them recover."