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Monday, Sep 01st

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You are here: Feature IMNA Drowned on the way to help her struggling parents

Drowned on the way to help her struggling parents

“Prostrating myself before U Lu Mone with my hands put together on my forehead, I humbly made an effort to convince him to take me as his wife. I asked only to be acknowledged as a lesser wife ... “Prostrating myself before U Lu Mone with my hands put together on my forehead, I humbly made an effort to convince him to take me as his wife. I asked only to be acknowledged as a lesser wife – no need to buy me jewelry or clothing; I would put myself on with what I had. He might come to meet with me at any time he liked, but then it would be he alone. He did not accept my offer,” she said as she chewed her mixture of betel nut.

This is a story told by Khin Khin [name changed for her safety], a Tavoyan woman who was repeatedly raped by human-traffickers who confined her to a room as she sought work in Mahachai, Thailand. Her ordeal, mostly suffered in an apartment used by workers of the Thai Union Company, in Mahachai, was not dissimilar to a nightmare, she said. She and a friend were raped daily by at least one man at a time, more than once a day and sold out as prostitutes and housemaids.

“Only just now has my mental torment ended. During confinement, I felt that I was in a hellhole,” said Khin Khin at the office of Rat Thai, a Thai community organization where she is taking refuge. Thai police rescued her and arrested four human-traffickers on September 30th at 7am, said U Aung Min, the local coordinator of Rat Thai.

In October 2008, thirty rape cases were reported in Mahachai, said a lawyer who prosecutes for the cases reported by Rat Thai. This number is undoubtedly too low. According to U Aung Min, both human-traffickers and fellow workers frequently sexually abuse women in Mahachai. In most cases, the victims stay silent.

Khin Khin would now like to return home to her parents in Burma; she no longer wants to stay in Thailand. But she also said she cannot sit by while her parents live a life of poverty, and she wants to earn money to support them.

On October 12th, a few minutes after arriving in an apartment owned by the workers of Thai Union Company in Mahachai, she was raped a human-trafficker named Lu Mone, recalled Khin Khin.

“At 4 am when we got to this apartment, we had cakes and water. We had not eaten any food after leaving [the Kawthoung frontier area] at 6 am [on October 11th]. I took a bath to get myself cleaned up. Then, U Lu Mone called to me, ‘Little girl, come to take a blanket for your sleeping.’ When I approached to him, he forced me down to the floor and had sex with me while one of his hands held my mouth closed. At that time my girl friend had fallen asleep after eating. The next morning Kin Mon, the man who took us from the frontier area, arrived. I told him about the incident on the previous day, but he was not bothered about it,” she said. According to Khin Khin, Lu Mone, 30, was then assigned to keep and watch the two girls. Both he and Kin Mon also raped her friend, age 14, Khin Khin said.

“On the day Kin Mon arrived, Lu Mon said he was going to buy food and I must follow him. I was led to a place nearby. Lu Mone was speaking through telephone as he walked. After buying food, when I said I would go back home, he did not let me do so. I was worried about my friend. Although he hindered me, I made an effort to return home, leaving the food in place and not waiting around. When I got to the apartment, my friend told me that Kin Mon did her in that way,” Khin Khin said. The two were then separated from each other, added Khin Khin.

On October 13th, a man called Ko Zaw raped her two times. In the morning and again in the evening on the 14th, both an overweight man who pretended to bring food and Ko Zaw raped her. In the evening, when the large man raped her over and over again, she almost lost consciousness. The next day, just before Lu Mone was going to forcibly have sex with her, a man knocked on the door and then took her to a massage parlor in Mahachai. The parlor owner gave Lu Mone 5,000 baht, said she.

“Massage parlor’ is for the name only. In fact it is only a place for selling sex. After keeping me there for two days, I was taken back to the apartment. Once I got back there, a man named Soe Pye [aged about 40] assaulted me. There was no one to help and they were waiting in the vicinity of the apartment, so I could not run away,” she said.

She was taken back to the massage parlor, and then to a place she remembered being called Swei Sun of Mahachai. Eventually, she was sent to a house owned by a Tavoyan couple that makes their living human trafficking.

The home of the Tavoyan couple is a place where migrants, especially workers from the Kaw-thaung area, stay before they find jobs, said Khin Khin. “There, along with many people, I was provided with daily meals, and felt relaxed. I asked the couple to buy me from Kin Mon and find a job for me. In return, I would repay, by working, the money spent on me. But they said Kin Mon alone was in possession of me because he was the one who had taken me from the frontier area,” Khin Khin explained.

“After three days, Kin Mon came back. In the presence of many people he called me abusive names such as prostitute, mischievous woman,” continued Khin Khin.

“I am here as you have taken me,” Khin Khin remembers retorting. “Have you got into trouble because you have ruined my life and made me into a prostitute? If your sister is in my place how would you feel about it?”

After that, Kin Mon did not say any more, but she was taken back to the apartment owned by the Thai Union Company employees. There she was confined for three days and raped by Soe Pye, Lu Mone and a man name Htun Ko. Eventually, Htun Ko sold her as a housemaid to a Thai woman for 4,000 baht.

The woman took her to Bangkok, where she was made to work from 5 am to 9 pm. For meals she had only leftovers from the finished plates of the residents. Khin Khin had worked in Ranong, Thailand, she said, and speaks a very small amount of Thai. After two days, the Thai woman told her that she would not be returned to Mahachai but Htun Ko would instead come and pick her up. Then the Thai women left her in a crowded place in Bangkok. By the evening time, no one had come to pick her up. Penniless, hungry and with limited abilities to speak Thai she wandered the streets alone.

Upon finding a policeman, she stretched out her hands and pleaded to be arrested for lacking immigration papers. “I did so because I had no means to go anywhere and if I got to the police station lock-up, I would get meals to eat and a place to sleep,” she said.

Despite this, the policeman did not arrest her. Instead, a woman who was wearing a great deal of jewelry asked her if she had eaten meals, where she was working, and other questions. Khin Khin tearfully replied that she only wanted to return home. The woman gave her 200 baht and stopped a taxi after Khin Khin explained that she wanted to return to Mahachai. She had Lu Mone’s phone number, Khin Khin said, and she called him using the taxi-driver’s phone. “You not only ruined me but also ran away. I am now coming to you,” said Khin Khin described, spiting out betel nut liquid from her mouth.

After making friends with Khin Khin and taking notes for hours, I came to be aware that it was noon. As we are sitting and talking outside a shop where Khin Khin was dyeing her hair, I noticed that we were located on the beach only when I noticed the faint smell of fish. I passed the area every morning on my away to the office, and I was used to the familiar scene of workers busy in their dark blue uniforms. But though they carried baskets of fish and shrimp, I had not taken notice that the place was a beach. Only at that moment did I see the top parts of large boats and faintly hear the rumble of sounds.

When I asked what time she returned to Mahachai from Bangkok, Khin Khin replied that it was mid-night. “When I got back to the apartment, they did not come to feed me any meals for two days. Terribly stricken by hunger, I drank water from the drip of a water pipeline and paid homage to Buddha.” One morning someone knocked on the door and asked for Lu Mone. When the woman saw Khin Khin, she went away. Khin Khin said she stood in her doorway, watched the woman walk away and memorized which door she entered.

The next day, when Lu Mone left her alone, Khin Khin knocked on the door she had memorized the day before. She explained her plight to the woman, who contacted U Aung Min of Rat Thai. She was rescued soon after, and Lu Mone, Htun Ko, Kyan Kyaung and the over-weight man were arrested. Kin Mon, Soe Pye and Ko Zaw were all able to evade the police.

Before her escape, Khin Khin said that Soe Pye offered her free lodging in the apartment and a monthly salary of 6,000 baht in exchange for work as a prostitute. She said she would be his mistress and he alone could come to her, but that she would not be a prostitute.

Khin Khin’s experience was worse than anything one can explain, she said. It was as if a stick was stabbed into an open wound, she described, because she was repeatedly raped in Mahachai after leaving the sex trade in Ranong.

The plan to leave for Mahachai began on September 9th, 2008, she said. A few hours after returning to her parents’ home from Ranong, a loan collector came and demanded her parents repay a debt.

At the same moment, she heard that a human-trafficker was collecting people to take to Mahachai. After making queries, the woman told Khin Khin, “You will have a salary of 5,000 baht per month. There is a job selling noodle soup, or you may also work in the fish processing industry. Don’t be worried. In Mahachai I have a daughter the same age of you. It will be okay for you as well.” The next day, she and her friend left for Mahachai; their travel costs were agreed to be 4,500 baht, which they were to repay in installment as they worked.

Khin Khin is a 23-year-old mother. She lives in Kaw-thaung, a port city, and her husband worked on boats. He also had a drug habit, and was arrested after their marriage. Khin Khin and her 3-year-old daughter returned to her family’s house, where her parents struggle to subsist by fishing.

“My younger brother and sister could not have schooling. While I lived in my parents’ house, I saw the debtors coming to demand the repayment, and some of them said abusive things or beat my parents. Being the eldest, I could not live on my family’s earnings any more and decided that I should leave to earn money.”

While she struggled to find a way to earn income, a friend returned from working in Ranong. When Khin Khin asked her about jobs in Ranong, her friend did not reply. Instead, she asked Khin Khin how desperate she was to help her family.

“When I said, ‘Whatever happens to me, I would be pleased if I could support my parents and they could enjoy themselves,’ she asked me if really meant it. Only after I replied ‘yes,’ she frankly revealed that she had been indecently seeking earning in Ranong,” said Khin Khin with her eyes downcast. There was no longer any betel nut left in her mouth, but she did not reach for more. She rubbed dye off a comb in her hand as she spoke. After momentarily stopping her story, she continued speaking, eyes lowered.

Khin Khin and her friend decided to return to Ranong together. “We are ones who would not steal any other people’s possessions,” they encouraged each other. “We two have the same life and understand each other. We know that even though we have to earn money to feed our families through indecent work, it is praise-worthy,” described Khin Khin.

Her parents did not want her to go, said Khin Khin. When they asked what kind of work she would do, she said she would work in a noodle shop or find other appropriate work. “I said in tears to them to let me support them and divide their suffering by half,” said Khin Khin.

The shop where Khin Khin worked employed ten girls. Ostensibly, the girls were waitresses in a beer pub, but for this service they were not paid any money. Instead, they could only earn money by treating the male customers to their liking.

“I sent almost all of my earnings to my mother. When got a monthly income of 7,150 baht, I spent only 150 baht. While I had to do a filthy occupation, I was glad that my parents could live their lives more comfortably,” said Khin Khin

After working in Ranong for nearly five months, she met another girl friend. This friend convinced her to run away and find a better job, in Mahachai.

Khin Khin’s ultimate goal was to support her parents, siblings and daughter. “Whatever suffering I have to go through, I want to support my parents, younger brother and sister with my earnings. My younger brother has his own aspirations, but he had been taken out of school. I want to send him back to school again. My daughter also will reach school age next year.”