Ruili: Ma Phyu was a familiar figure in the Burmese community of Ruili, China, commonly found passing the time by munching betel along the streets. But then one day she was no longer there, and two weeks afterward the truth was found out – Ma Phyu was part of a human trafficking operation that specialized in selling young Burmese women as brides to Chinese men.
With the arrest of Ma Phyu, in her thirties, and her accomplices, a grizzly story of the trafficking of over twenty young Burmese women to China as forced sexual partners gradually came to light.
Nabbing the human traffickers, it would transpire, was linked to a rape and murder case a Chinese police force cracked. About 18-years old and hailing from Syriam, Burma – the same native town as Ma Phyu – Wah Wah was one of the women that Ma Phyu and her gang had sold into slavery.
Wah Wah was sold to a Chinese man living in Sandong, near Beijing, at the price tag of Chinese RMB 20,000 (approximately US$ 2,900). A few weeks later, Wah Wah managed to flee from the clutches of her buyer and made her way back to Ruili earlier this month.
The hapless young lady had nowhere else to go but to return back to her perpetrators, and Ma Phyu was happy when her commodity arrived back in her hands for resale. However, when she tried to sell her to another Chinese man, Wah Wah vehemently refused.
But the traffickers, having already struck a deal and received some advance money, tried to force Wah Wah to accept her newest companion.
As dusk fell over Ruili on that fateful day, Wah Wah was taken by taxi along the road to Namkhan, Burma, a few miles away. Accompanying her in the vehicle were several members of the human trafficker's family.
Eventually, they stopped the taxi next to a paddy field beside the highway in the vicinity of Man Heiro, still in Burmese territory and about 20 miles from Ruili.
"Before leaving Ruili, they were drunk with beer. She was taken to a paddy field near the highway. Then Kyaw Swa started raping her. After that, Bo Bo stabbed her repeatedly. She died from five stab wounds. Then her corpse was left in the nearby drainage," recalls a source from the Chinese police investigation team of the incident.
Local Shan people found her corpse the next day and informed Chinese police by phone. At first, Chinese authorities only investigated the local habitual offenders.
But fortunately, another victim of this human trafficking gang, Shwe Shwe, managed to flee from her Chinese buyer and also return to Ruili. She was given assistance by the local Burmese people living there and provided details vital to tracing down the human trafficking gang, leading to the arrest of 12 people, including Ma Phyu.
Of these culprits, Kyaw Swa and his wife, Bo Bo and Aung Thu Soe are still in the hands of Chinese authorities and are to be dealt with in accordance to Chinese law. The remaining eight traffickers, including Kyaw Tun, Ma Phyu and her 13-year old daughter, were transferred to the hands of the Burma's Muse Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force on the 14th of this month.
Yet the existence of the Muse Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force is itself a sad commentary on the current status of the Burmese state.
The government-supported organization, part of a five year human trafficking eradication program, is poorly funded, and locals frequently complain of their ineffectiveness and incompetence in preventing human trafficking, the existence of which is a well known fact among local residents. In contrast, people see and hear of the successes of Chinese authorities in preventing the same crime.
Deprived of adequate funds, the Muse Task Force has to collect money from businessmen to feed victims when they arrive back to their homeland. Moreover, to provide clothing, female colleagues are forced to share their uniforms with the victims. And on occasion, victims have to wait for about six months to accumulate the transport fare necessary for them to get back to their hometowns.
Under the pressure of abject poverty in Burma, young Burmese women become easy and vulnerable targets for traffickers, as many future brides for sale are seeking greener pastures and better economic opportunities by leaving their native homes.
Among the many victims of Ma Phyu and her gang were also two Mandalay University students, who were included in the six victims transferred to Burmese authorities by Chinese authorities on the 21st of this month.
"Most victims are in an age group from18 to 22 years old. They were persuaded and cheated by traffickers through the promise of a good paying job. They cheated educated girls with computer and English language skills by promising them jobs paying 100,000-150,000 kyat per month (approximately US$ 85 to 130)," an eyewitness from Muse said.
The two university students were taken by highway from Lashio to Chinshwehaw and then sold to a Chinese citizen hailing from the province of Anhui in northern China at the price of RMB 20,000. They proceeded to change hands from one owner to another like a common commodity for about three months.
After three months, a bridegroom was sent for each of them; one a mute and blind and the other over 60 years old. They had no choice and could not expect help from any quarters. They had to spend a total of about six miserable months with these husbands.
Both faced a lot of hardships in living with their husbands in a place that experiences harsh weather and maintains a different social environment with a different staple of food – flour instead of rice.
The one who had to sleep with the elderly groom was persecuted every night for not giving her consent to consummate the relationship. The old man burnt her entire back with a cigarette and injured her head in two places. Moreover, this old groom defaced her by cutting her hair in a bad way.
Yet the removal of Ma Phyu and company from the scene does not spell the end to human trafficking at the Ruili border crossing, let alone to other avenues through which traffickers ply their trade.
Amid the tight pre-Olympic security clampdown, Chinese authorities discovered over 100 Burmese human trafficking victims; among whom were the two university students.
The pre-Olympic security screening also identified and rescued 18 Burmese women from 18 to 30 years of age who were sold to fishermen in Fujian Province. These 18 ladies have also now arrived back on the Burmese border and will shortly be transferred to the Muse Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force.
But, just how long the recent returnees to the border will have to remain there before finding their way home is unfortunately just one of the many questions that remain hanging and unanswered regarding the continued trafficking of Burmese women.