Yangon family jailed for severe abuse of child servants

A police van carrying the owners of a tailor shop, arrives to court in Yangon on December 15, 2017. The owners of a Myanmar tailor shop were sentenced to more than decade in prison for the horrific abuse of two young domestic workers, a case that gripped the nation and fixed a spotlight on its dismal record on child labour. Photo: Myo Min Soe/AFP

The owners of a Yangon tailor shop were sentenced to more than a decade in prison on Friday for the horrific abuse of two young domestic workers, a case that gripped the headlines and put a spotlight on its poor record on child labour.

The Western District court heard how San Kay Khine and Thazin, now 18 and 17 respectively, were regularly beaten, cut with knives and deprived of sleep and food by their employers in the Kyauktada Township tailor shop.

Judges sentenced the store's owner Tin Thu Zar, 58, and her daughter Su Mon Latt, 28, to 16 years behind bars for human trafficking, child abuse and causing grievous bodily harm. The daughter's husband was also handed 13 years while her brother was sentenced to nine years for the same charges. 

Two further defendants were acquitted in a trial that lasted over a year.

"The judge told us we can apply for appeal at the Yangon regional court and we will do that after discussing with the defendants' families," defense lawyer Kyaw Win told AFP.

The case dominated headlines after the two girls' plight was exposed by local journalist Swe Win of Myanmar Now, who alerted Myanmar's national rights commission which helped free them after years of abuse. 

San Kay Khine had her fingers broken by her bosses, leaving her with deformed hands.

The other, Thazin, described her ordeal to AFP in September 2016 before the trial began.

"I have a scar from where an iron was stamped on my leg and a scar on my head as well," she said.

"This was a wound from a knife, because my cooking was not OK," she added, showing a mark on her nose.

The pair are among tens of thousands of children from poor, rural areas lured by the promise of work as domestic helpers to Myanmar's growing pool of urban, middle-class households.

Rights groups say they are at high risk of abuse but the issue remains under-researched in a country where the judicial system often favours the wealthy.

A family friend brought San Kay Khine and Thazin to Yangon, promising to find them good jobs.

Once the girls' parents learned of the abuse, they said they repeatedly told the police but no action was taken and several attempts to rescue them ended in failure.

Myanmar is rated as the world's third worst country for child labour, behind Somalia and North Korea, according to the 2017 index by risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

An estimated 10 percent of children -- more than 1.2 million -- are in the work force according to a 2015 ILO survey, with over half working in hazardous environments.

Children can often be seen touting goods around Yangon's streets, working in roadside cafes and teahouses or helping bar owners late into the night.

Thousands more make up an invisible workforce behind closed doors, where they are especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Reporting by Mizzima and AFP

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