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You are here: Feature Phophtaw One girl’s journey from Burma to a border brothel

One girl’s journey from Burma to a border brothel

Kyu Kyu waits for customers in the parlor room of the brothel house after she finishes putting on her make-up in the afternoon. She talks with a friend on her mobile phone. She has a slim body, and is average height for Burmese girls -- about 5 feet. She can speak Burmese fluently, but is only able to speak a little Thai.

Kyu Kyu is working as a sex worker in a brothel house in Three Pagodas Pass Town near the Thai-Burma border. Three Pagodas Pass is a small border town one-hour away from Sangkhlaburi by car. The town is crowded with migrants from Burma. Travelers from many different parts of Burma temporarily stay in the town before continuing further into Thailand.

Kyu Kyu is 15 years old, and hails from Pegu (Bago) in central Burma. She is the oldest daughter in her family. She has four siblings. She completed primary school before she left her home. Her parents are very poor, working as daily wage workers in Pegu City.

Before arriving at the brothel house in Three Pagodas Pass, she helped her family earn money at home by selling drinking water.

"My family is very poor. I worked together with my mother. I sold water in Pegu City. At that time, I was 7 years old," she told BNI in a recent interview.

Kyu Kyu went to live in her aunt's home when she was 10 years old. This arrangement came after her father borrowed money from her aunt, named Daw San (Aunty San), and had difficulty replaying the loan.

In May 2010, Daw San was included in Yan Se Kyan garment factory's downsizing of their labor force. Daw San became a vegetable vendor. Kyu Kyu had to work together with her aunt selling vegetables.

Even though she had become a full-time vegetable vendor, her parents were not aware of this. Kyu Kyu did not tell her parents that she had become a vendor and had to work hard because she did not want to worry her parents about her situation.

Daw San has three children of her own, and her husband, U Tun Shin, has been working in Thailand since 2008. Uncle U Tun Shin had not sent money back to his family since 2009. Aunt San’s family hardship increased. In June 2010, Uncle U Tun Shin told Daw San to come to join him and look for work in Thailand.

Daw San agreed to follow her husband to Thailand. She then sent her own children to live with Kyu Kyu’s family. Daw San also sold her house to get money for the travel costs. Daw San requested Kyu Kyu's father to allow his daughter to travel together with her to Thailand. Even though Kyu Kyu's father agreed, her mother, Daw Mae Lon, did not want her daughter to go to Thailand. Finally, Kyu Kyu left Burma together with Daw San.

In September 2011, Daw San and Kyu Kyu began their journey to Three Pagodas Pass in Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township, Karen State. When they arrived in Moulmein, they met a broker from Mudon. The broker demanded 200,000 Kyat (about US $250) for transportation costs to Three Pagodas Pass. Daw San agreed to pay that amount of money to continue their trip from Moulmein to the border town.

Daw San and Kyu Kyu only had 700,000 Kyat (about US $875) when they left home.

"We left for Three Pagodas Pass on 15 September with about fifteen other travelers led by the broker," Kyu Kyu recalls.

According to Kyu Kyu, they had to pay money at military checkpoint gates. They had to pass at least fifteen gates before they reached Three Pagoda Pass town.

Kyu Kyu and her aunt arrived in Three Pagodas Pass Town on 22 September 2010. They stayed at a guesthouse managed by the broker.

"We stayed at a house in Ward no. 3 of Three Pagodas Pass Town. We were able to contact Uncle U Tun Shin at the end of November," Kyu Kyu explained.

Uncle U Tun Shin said that he could not afford to pay the transportation costs of his wife and niece, so Daw San decided to go to work in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

On 17 December 2010, Daw San left for Bangkok, giving 500 baht (US $16.50) to Kyu Kyu before she left.

"’I will go first to Bangkok. When I earn some money, I will bring you to Bangkok too. Daw Yein will come to call you. You have to work with Daw Yein in Three Pagodas Pass’," Kyu Kyu remembers her aunt telling her.

After her aunt left for Bangkok, Kyu Kyu cried for three days because she did not have any friends or relatives in the border town. She also did not have enough money to survive for much longer.

Kyu Kyu became sick with malaria disease. According to Kyu Kyu, she felt so much worry because she did not have money to pay for her room rental fee, or for food or medicine.

"One night, a son of the guesthouse owner raped me when I had a high fever.  At that time, I was only 14 years old," Kyu Kyu, with sad feeling, said.

The next day, Daw Yein arrived at the house where Kyu Kyu was staying.

"’Are you Kyu Kyu? You are not well, right? Your aunt told me to help find you a job. Now I have found a job for you. That's why I came to see you. If you are not well, you must continue taking medication’," Kyu Kyu recalls Daw Yein telling her.

Daw Yein gave 1,000 baht to Kyu Kyu.

After one week, Daw Yein visited Kyu Kyu again.

“She came to bring me to work, so I brought my clothes and followed Daw Yein. Daw Yein also gave some money to guesthouse owner for the cost of my stay. I thought Daw Yein was a very generous person.”

When Kyu Kyu arrived at Daw Yein's house, the woman told the girl, "Your aunt borrowed 10,000 baht before she went to Bangkok. You must work for me”.

"I felt very upset. I asked her 'what is my job?' She replied that my boss would come in the evening. We would discuss about it when he came. I felt so much worry in my mind," Kyu Kyu said sadly said about her experiences.

“A young man arrived at the house at 6 pm. He asked Daw Yein about my name and age. He also asked 'is she the new one?’ Then he said '15,000 baht'.”

Even though Kyu Kyu did not want to be a sex worker, she saw no way to escape from the situation. Tears rolled down her face when she realized she would become a prostitute.

"I prayed to the Lord Buddha that if I had evil consequences of evil deeds, it must be ended in this life," she said about her thoughts at the time.

Since that night over a year ago, she has been a sex worker.

"At first, I had to sleep with seven men every night because I was a new sex worker in the brothel. Many customers wanted me to have sex with them," she said.

Even though she works hard, she does not get her full salary from the brothel owner.

"The brothel owner takes money for my living costs and food. Then we divide the remaining money. I get 50% of the money from the remaining money," she explained.

According to Kyu Kyu, she is not happy working as a sex worker, but she now earns some money that she can send back to her family in Burma.

"I don't like the life of sex worker. I want to live together with my family like other people live," Kyu Kyu said.

She regularly considers ending her career as a prostitute, but she continues this job because she earns more money than she would from other jobs such as working in a factory.

"I considered stopping this job, but it's not possible to stop because I can make more money from this job. I can earn between 500 and 1000 baht (US $16.50–$33) per day. If I work in a Thai factory in the Three Pagodas Pass Town, I can only earn 75 baht (US $2.50) per day. I have to spend 750 baht for ny room rent, and 1,500 baht for my monthly food. If I worked in a Thai factory, I would not be able to send money back to my family. That's why I continue to work at this job," she explained.

According to Kyu Kyu, she has not been tortured in the brothel, but she does miss her parents and siblings.

"Sometimes, I cry because I miss my parents and siblings so much. I don't like this job," she said.

Even though she only has primary level education, she does have some knowledge about HIV/AIDS. She tries to persuade her customers to use condoms when they have sex.

"I tell them that I don't know whether I have AIDS or not, that I haven't checked my blood. Then I tell them they should use a condom for their safety," she said.

According to Kyu Kyu, she does worry about her medical situation. She took a blood test at a clinic, but the clinic has not given her the results yet.

"I am worrying about the medical results because I haven’t gotten the test results from the clinic since I took the blood test at the clinic," she said.

Even though she is working as a sex worker, she does not want her parents or relatives to know about her life on the border.

"If my parents know what I am working like this, my father would die. As well, my mother would get a mental illness," she explained.

Only Daw San knows that Kyu Kyu is working as a sex worker in the Burmese border town.

Even though she earns money that she can send back to help her family, she is not happy.

"Whenever I call my parents, I cry. My tears run down my cheeks. They are happy because they don't know what my job is. If they knew it, they would be sad and get depressed. That's why I can’t let them know what my job is," she painfully related.

Like Kyu Kyu, there are many girls from Burma who become sex workers because of the severe economic hardships faced by their families.

“If you ask me what I want at the present, I will answer, ‘I don't want to work like this. I want to live together with my family,’” she said.

Although Kyu Kyu dreams of living together with her family again, her desire has not become fulfilled yet. For now, she is focused on doing her best to help support her family.