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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 (2)

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


From a victim to be a trafficker

Human trafficking has been persistent phenomenon in Kachin state and elsewhere in Burma regardless ceasefire or fire. However, there has been ugly turn in Kachin state after ceasefire broke down in 2011 that traffickers are roaming around the IDPs camp, from where trafficking has been originated at times. Traffickers, who can be Chinese, Kachin or “Kachin Chinese”, have kept their eyes off ever vulnerable populations in war-affected areas. Out of 24 cases in the KWAT’s 2013 report, 15 cases have taken place inside IDPs camp and 4 cases took place in Laiza town which all are rebel controlled territory. This is different aspect from the previous report documented during the ceasefire, in terms of ‘origin’ of trafficking. According to ‘Eastwood Bound’ - KWAT’s 2008 report - two third of trafficking cases took place in Myitkyina, which is controlled by government as a capital of Kachin state.

IDPs camp at the China-Burma border. since a 17 year old-ceasefire broke down in June 2011. More than hundreds of thousand IDPs have been displaced. photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Geographical condition of rebel’s territory has affected too on trafficking as most of IDPs camps in KIO controlled area have located along the border line. Prime examples are Je Yang camp and Phlumyang camp. One can cross the border from the former through creek easily while the latter is connected with China by bridge. Moreover, rebel’s ability is now being diminished when it comes to coping with trafficking. Women groups have recognized that KIO used to effectively cope with this epidemic problem before the war, but not anymore.

“After the war resumed, KIO hasn’t been able to concentrate on the issue unlikely they have done before. All forces of KIO have been busy with battles or cease fire talks” Hkawn La (55), activist from Kachin Women Association (KWA) pointed out.

In the past if the escaped women from China have reached at government controlled border, then border forces would prison or fine escapees instead of helping them out. This is why the escapees were trying to reach rebel army, who would direct women to shelters followed by vocational training. But this practice has been weaken after the war resumed in 2011 June. All the resources of KIO have been now inputting in battle, aid and negotiation for a ceasefire, creating a vacuum of refugee protection.

Lack of refugee protection

Meanwhile Naw Kwang has returned home safely. Tracing him has kicked off with his mother’s report to Yin Jiang police. While the Chinese police were searching his location, Naw Kwang had been forced to move by brokers from Khongsi, where he was logging, to Guangdong, where he was a factory worker, then brought back to Khongsi. He was finally ‘released’ to Kunming as Chinese police called and warned brokers to release him. After twists and turns of the story, Naw Kwang has reunited with his mother in Yin Jiang in early November last year. He is now in Je Yang camp with his family.


A man cross the border between China and Kachin (Northern Burma). Porous border between the two countries has made human trafficking rather easy.(left)/ Yin Jiang is border city in China side. It’s the first transit spot for human trafficking to China. (right) photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

As for Roi Ja, who was trafficked to coastal village, she was rescued after 20 days before forced marriage. She called mother in Je Yang camp with help of a Shan woman in the village, who was ‘sister in law’ of the ‘second’ broker. The phone Roi Ja used was belong to the husband of Shan woman (i.e. the broker’s brother). Roi Ja’s mother has urgently informed the Camp committee who then has reported Yin Jiang police. Yin Jiang police, being familiar with all these troubles, had traced where about of Roi Ja through caller’s location. Police arrived at the village in days to rescue Roi Ja. She was brought to Yin Jiang, two hours driving from the China-Burma border, where she could reunite in tears with her mother.

Roi Ja, who went to China to support her family, has earned 3,000 CNY debt (approx. $ 484 USD) because the Chinese police have claimed for ‘logistic costs’. Her family had to borrow money from the Camp committee. Now the family has been slowly repaying debt.

“Chinese police wouldn’t help you unless you pay them for ‘costs’.”

Shawng Shawng, KWAT’s Laiza researcher said.

Yet there’s at least one exception that Chinese police handed over a victim without demanding costs. It was Nja Kaw (name changed) who, as I saw her at first, continued to vomit and diarrhea in Laiza hospital. She was HIV+ and barely alive.

“It’s difficult to know what exactly happened to her. But we assume that she hasn’t taken ARV (HIV + treatment) for many days to get worse and abandoned.”

Dr. Nang Zing Bawk Wa, assistant medical advisor in Laiza hospital said.
Both KWAT and hospital authority, who occasionally deal with victims of human trafficking, said Chinese police who found her somewhere in China might have brought her to hospital to learn she’s HIV+. So they quickly handed her over to KIO foreign department.

Weaving center in Laiza, the rebel’s capital in Kachin (Northern Burma). Victims of human trafficking could get training at the center. photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Unconditional repatriation

In late 2013, Nhkum Bawktawng, a Maijayang researcher of KWAT has returned from Muse which is another border town controlled by Burmese government. She has done awareness program of human trafficking in Muse. There, she has come across many mothers who would proudly say ‘our daughter married to Chinese man’.
“It seemed like a trend in Muse. People didn’t know it’s trafficking. Brokers came there to convince mothers to make their daughters marry to Chinese men. Family got paid and thanked brokers, who have gone with daughters.”

*Lee Yu Kyung is an international correspondent based in Bangkok, Thailand. The article was made possible with support by South Korea’ Rhee Yeung Hui Foundation.


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