Article and Photograph by Kalika Bro-Jorgensen
In September 2014 the Anti-Trafficking in Person Task Force received a desperate call through their hotline number.
“A 20 year old woman from Yangon had been promised a job in Meiktila, but when she arrived she was forced into prostitution. The main perpetrator and his son both beat and raped her too,” said police captain U Myo Lwin of the Anti-Trafficking in Person Task Force, Meiktila Township.
U Myo Lwin called in support from the regular police as well as the Township authorities and went to rescue the woman immediately. While the perpetrator managed to escape, they caught his son at the scene and later tracked down and arrested everyone involved.
The Anti-Trafficking in Person Task Force was established in 2007, and the Meiktila branch has handled 25 cases over the years. Most often Myanmar women are trafficked out of the country, for labour and sexual exploitation and even marriage.
In this particular case, the woman was an orphan who lived with her grandmother and older siblings in Yangon. The family was poor and she had few income opportunities – an easy target for the broker, who sent her to Meiktila.
“She was scared and injured, so we called in the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation for extra support,” said U Myo Lwin.
The Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation provided the woman with a safe place to stay during the investigation and subsequent court proceedings. They also recommended the Anti-Trafficking in Person Task Force take contact to ActionAid.
“We had been cooperating with ActionAid on awareness raising activities for three years, and knew that they could offer psychosocial support and, more importantly, legal aid,” said Daw Tin Tin Myint, a member of the Executive Committee of Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation in Meiktila.
The very next day ActionAid received a request for support from the Anti-Trafficking in Person Task Force. Two female staff members from the Meiktila office immediately went to meet the woman in the police station.
“First the police captain briefed us about the case. Then we met with the woman in private, with no police officers present. At first she felt ashamed to talk about her injuries and the sexual violence, but we encouraged her to not feel shame or fear. When we left she seemed to be better already,” said Mya Thet Nwe, then the Programme Officer in Charge at the ActionAid office in Meiktila.
After the meeting Mya Thet Nwe contacted the Meiktila branch of local partner organisation Legal Clinic Myanmar, who could provide legal aid to the woman.
“When we met her first time she seemed depressed. We told her she had nothing to be ashamed about. During the legal proceedings we represented her and accompanied her every time she had to meet in court,” said Daw Khin Myat Lin, a lawyer from the Legal Clinic in Meiktila.
The woman was offered vocational training or any other support she needed, but once her presence was no longer required in court all she wanted was to leave. Meanwhile the Legal Clinic Myanmar stayed on the case.
“If she had not received legal aid, I am not sure whether she would have even filed a case. The perpetrator had hired a very great lawyer, and tried to bribe the woman to avoid a court case. She was very afraid, but the Legal Clinic Myanmar and the police encouraged her stay strong. If the perpetrator went free, other girls would end up in the same situation,” said Mya Thet Nwe.
It is expected that the main perpetrator will be sentenced to at least 10 years imprisonment – the minimum punishment for human trafficking.
“I believe that the perpetrator will be convicted, not least thanks to the support from ActionAid and Legal Clinic Myanmar, which was very effective. There were already pending cases against him under the prostitution law, but now we charge him for human trafficking, which is a much more comprehensive law,” said U Myo Lwin.