A report released last month by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled Give us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go: Trafficking of Kachin Brides From Myanmar to China has detailed the harrowing plight of women and girls trafficked from Myanmar’s Kachin State to China to bear children to unmarried men. Like many other type of trafficking, victims are offered jobs in China, but upon arrival were sold off to unwed men, confined and repeatedly raped until they become pregnant. Victims are also often forced into domestic servitude as well, facing the harrowing decision to have to leave their child behind to escape. 227 cases were identified in 2017; however the number is likely to be exponentially higher, due to fear, stigma, and the inherent difficulty of gathering reliable statistics about illicit offending. The victims, many of whom have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in the region between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese military, were aged as young as 14.
Acting Women’s Rights Co-Director at HRW Heather Barr blamed authorities on both sides of the border for the increase in trafficking, saying they are “looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse.” Barr also blamed the dire situation among the Kachin people as contributing to the trafficking, telling Time magazine, “[The experts] all agreed that the number of cases is increasing, and that makes sense when you look at how desperate the situation is for the people afflicted by the conflicts in Kachin and Northern Shan states.”
Trafficking in any form is abhorrent; however the deliberate targeting of vulnerable, marginalized and often underage victims to serve the purpose of producing children is particularly terrible. Further, the unwillingness or ineptitude of the Burmese and Chinese governments to address this issue is a humanitarian failure, but also unsurprising from countries that sit on the bottom tier of the United States Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report – that is, not meeting minimum standards in relation to combating trafficking and making minimal efforts to do so. However, given the report suggests that a large number of the victims were trafficked by people known to them; blame should also sit with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) who hold informal governance over the Kachin people.
There are over 100,000 Kachin State persons displaced by the ongoing fighting between the KIO and government forces, many of whom are living in refugee camps near the Chinese border. However, their plight has been overshadowed by the Rohingya crisis. The Burmese government have been widely alleged to be cutting off aid reaching these people, and many Kachin families are surviving on rations which amount to two cups of rice per person per day. This abject poverty creates a push factor, which encourages many of the victims to accept apparently lucrative but dubious job offers with the hope of sending money back to their families. Creating a “pull factor” in China is the significant shortage of females as a result of the “one child” policy – with 120 males born to every 100 females in the year 2000, which has left many Chinese males unmarried and with significant family pressure to provide children. A relatively porous border between the two countries makes trafficking people an easy task.
The trafficking itself and the indifference of the respective authorities represents a gross breach of human rights and a failure of the governments to protect their most vulnerable citizens. A collaborative approach between law enforcement, education campaigns, official employment and recruitment pathways and repatriation of victims who are trafficked are a good start towards addressing and preventing this injustice.