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Sold to be ‘wife’

Human trafficking at the China-Burma border: Resumption of war in Kachin state fueling human trafficking, IDPs targeted (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee in Kachin State (Northern Burma), 29 March 2014

Je yang camp, which is located 30 minutes driving often unpaved or rocky road from Laiza – the rebel’s capital in Kachin State, Northern Burma –, has accommodated some 8,000 Internally Displaced Persons (or IDPs). The landscape of the Camp, where rocks were wildly stood and shallow creeks are streamed, has indicated that the scenery could have been far more stunning if it was left out without presence of human beings. Yet, resumption of civil war in Kachin state has dragged thousands of IDPs into this picturesque nature, right next to the border with China. Kachin Independence Organization (or KIO) has been engaged ongoing battle with the Burma army ever since a 17 year old-ceasefire broke down in June 2011. More than hundreds of thousand IDPs have been displaced. Of them, about 80,000 have taken shelter in the area controlled by Kachin Independence Organization (or KIO) without proper international aid. KIO has fought for broader autonomy since 1961.

Soldiers from Kachin Independent  Army (or KIA), a military wing of Kachin Independence Organization (or KIO). KIO has been fighting for broader autonomy since 1961. It has been engaged ongoing battle with the Burma army ever since a 17 year old-ceasefire broke down in June 2011. photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Fueling trafficking

Roi Ja (named changed) living in Je Yang camp is a sweet eighteen. Her family is from Northern Shan state, where Kachins along with Shan ethnics are historically present. There are military posts of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (or TNLA) - the military wing of Palaung State Liberation Front (or PSLF) - and Kachin Independence Army (or KIA)’s 4th brigade – KIO is the military wing of KIO – in Northern Shan state. The allied two groups are the only ones that haven’t signed a cease fire with the Burmese government as of March 2014.

2 years ago when clashes between rebels and government troops were about to begin, Roi Ja’ family fled and the finally arrived at Je Yang camp. None of her 6 family members have proper income source. This is why Roi Ja, the eldest daughter had worked in a restaurant in Laiza town, where she has acquainted an age friend. One day the ‘friend’ had asked her if she wanted to work in China for better money.

“My father couldn’t work because of illness and my mother was house wife. And I’m the eldest. This situation was haunting me when I was considering of going to China.”

Roi Ja, after pondering a few days, has told her mother that she would go to China for work. In early April 2013 she got on the bus for China having only 100 Yuan (approx. $16 USD) in her pocket. The ‘friend’ and she were going to meet in Yin Jiang, the border city in China side, to which Kachin can legally cross with border pass. Thanks to her mobile with Chinese SIM, which most of Kachins in the rebel territory use, she met a ‘friend’ and a Chinese man in Yin Jiang without any trouble.

“From now on, this ‘gentle man’ would help you because you don’t have proper document. You just accompany with him” said a friend, adding that he would follow them too.  

Some 2000 Kachin IDPs - mainly women and children - have been fleeing through jungle road due to fresh outbreak of clashes in Nam Lim Pa in Southern Kachin state. photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Next morning, Roi Ja and the ‘gentleman’ arrived at Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in Southern China. There, another man at his 30s showed up. The ‘gentle man’ handed her over to the ‘second man’ and left. The second man and Roi Ja have traveled by bus to reach a small village in coastal area next day morning.

“I had no idea where it was. There were his extended family including his wife”

The man has given Roi Ja a small room. For the first days, women in the village in turn have watched Roi Ja’s every movement. They have given Roi Ja 10 Yuan (approx. $1.6 USD) a day for daily expense as well as food. One day, she heard a chilling announcement by the ‘second’ man.

“Hello people, we have a girl from Myanmar (Burma) at our house. If anyone needs bride...”
It was three days after she has arrived at the village.

“I started to cry day and night begging them to send me home. But there’s one lady from Yin Jiang telling me ‘give up’. I have learnt that I was sold out for 30,000 CNY (approx. $ 4,842 USD)”

That amount seemed to be divided into three for : ‘gentle man’, ‘second man’ and the ‘friend’.

“If anyone needs bride…”

According to the report by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (or KWAT) in 2008, “out of the confirmed trafficking cases, about 90% of the cases were forced to be brides (in China)”. China’s one child policy has caused unbalanced demography in the country. This has let human trafficking - particularly women - explode for decades along the border line. Deteriorating situation in the conflict-stricken neighbor Kachin state, where refresh of conflict has been reiterating, has fueled the trafficking even worse. Apart from it, ‘Gender disparity’ in Kachin society has also played out in the trafficking, said KWAT’s 2013 report.  

“Decades of civil war and rampant drug and alcohol addiction among men have left many women as the heads of households, creating further burdens for women as the sole breadwinners for their families.”

Burmese authority, on its side of findings, said 102 cases of human trafficking reported in 2013. Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (ATTF) - a special unit of the Burmese police force – reportedly said 59 cases were taken to China while more than half of the cases were resulted in forced marriage.

“Years ago, we’ve got cases that multiple families together bought one woman to co-own to use her multiple purposes. It was nothing more than semi-slavery” said Nhkum Bawktawng, KWAT researcher in Maijayang, a small town of the KIO-controlled. “In many cases, it is victims’ relative, friend or even family member, who allured victims in the first place” she added.

Indeed. Naw Kwang, a 18 year old Kachin man living in Je Yang camp, has received a phone call from his relative last August who said then “there’s a good job for you”. Naw Kwang soon crossed the border to Yin Jiang where he met three brokers with whom the relative put him touch. One of the three and his Kachin wife accompanied Naw Kwang traveling to Khongsi, the small city in Shanxi province – north east in China -. It took 4 days by bus and train. Naw Kwang met there 7 men from various ethnicities including Kachin, Shan and Palaung in Burma. As soon as he arrived at Khongsi, he called mother who’s in Je Yang camp.

“Mum, I got a job. I will send you money upon receiving my first wage.”

Nja Kaw (name changed) is victim of human trafficking. She is HIV+ and abandoned in China before being handed over to Kachin Independence Organization.  photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

He wasn’t able to aware that he was trafficked.

What Naw Kwang and other 7 men were doing in Khongsi for the next months was logging, while his mother hasn’t received a single coin from her son for the next 3 months, which led mother to ask him : “You haven’t sent me money. Are you ok there?” When Naw Kwang asked the manager why they haven’t got paid for three months, the answer shocked them.  

“I already paid several months’ wages to the couple who brought you.”

It is later revealed that the Kachin wife of the broker who accompanied with Naw Kwang was also victim of human trafficking. She has transformed herself from victim to be a trafficker.

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