Abuse of Women



"If I beat you it might hurt my hands. If I kill you, it will only cost me 35 baht to have you buried."

—Thai pimp threatening a Burmese woman who was forced into prostitution.


The woman’s role in Burma hasn’t always been one of equality. Society and culture tend to look down on the role of women, as throughout much of the world. Therefore, women have become one of the biggest targets for abuse by SLORC. Women face continual harassment because of their husbands, must work the same forced labour as men  who often run away from the SLORC, leaving behind only women (even women who are pregnant or have children to care for are taken by the military), all this in addition to sexual violence. Villagers reported that when women come back from SLORC huts the married women openly tell if they've been raped, but the unmarried women don't say anything. They don't dare, because they're too shy; we know they've been raped, but they won't admit it. In traditional Burmese society, a women who has been raped is not desired by men for marriage. Many times, women are being forced to marry soldiers by commanding officers, or to hide their pregnancies. SLORC has no respect for women. At Da Gela Village there's a widow named Ma Win Sein, she has 2 sons. Her husband was a Burmese soldier. She was raped, and when the villagers found her in the forest 4 days later she couldn't even walk. They did that to her even though she was the widow of one of them. Young girls are routinely raped as well as elderly, and, in order to silence the victim about what soldiers have done to her, women are in many instances murdered afterwards.


The Bullet Trick


Around Kyauk Kyi area, young women often go into town by bicycle to buy things, then bring them back in the bicycle's carrier. SLORC soldiers in the area now use what they call the "bullet trick". At the first SLORC checkpoint coming out of town, a SLORC soldier searches the bicycle carriers of young women, and in the process slips a few bullets inside. Then at the second checkpoint, a soldier "finds" the bullets, interrogates the girl on where she got them, and when she can't answer she is detained for 3 days, during which she is repeatedly raped by soldiers. She is then released with no questions asked. This has been done repeatedly by soldiers from IB 73 and 351, particularly at Ye O Zin Village in Kyauk Kyi Township. At Kyaun Zut Village in February 1994, troops from IB 351 used a similar trick. They keep a pot of drinking water for travellers in front of their checkpoint, and they hid some bullets at the base of it. Then when a pretty girl came past and stopped, the soldiers went out, "found" the bullets, and detained and raped her for 3 days. [source: KNU/MOA]




When SLORC troops enter a village, especially in liberated or disputed areas, they often find that all of the men have fled, either through fear or conscription, leaving the women with their children. The SLORC soldiers then rape the women and/or conscript them to carry weapons and supplies to the front lines, serving as human mine detectors and shields for the troops. Many of women and girls have fled the repressive rule with the widespread knowledge that there are good employment opportunities in Thailand. Sadly, the rapid spread of AIDS in Thailand and Burma has succeeded in making the sale of younger and younger women a booming business.


Surprisingly, many of the women who are forced into prostitution are from small villages, tricked by the promise of employment from local agents who represent procurers. Some of these agents who recruit young women for the brothel gangs in urban centres such as Kawthaung and Ranong are ordinary people, often known by the women. In other instances, trusted villagers and townspeople or even friends and relatives have been known to lure unsuspecting women into leaving their homes with offers of employment.


The gangs, however, often work in a more systematic and brutal manner than do the local agents. Sometimes they pose as friends who do a lot of trading in Thailand and invite their girlfriends or acquaintances to go sightseeing with them. At other times they pose as representatives of employment recruiting agencies in order to lure women with the promise of work. They often hang around dock areas and bus and train stations in both Thailand and Burma looking for women who appear lost or for women who have arrived to the town in search of work.


The agent usually approaches the woman to find out if she is looking for work. If so, he will offer the woman a job as a waitress or factory worker and if she agrees, takes her to a local "employment agency" where arrangements are made without the woman's knowledge, to sell her to a procurer usually in Thailand, but occasionally in Burma. Increasingly, agents forego the usual attempt to deceive the women and simply kidnap them. Burmese women who come across the border to visit relatives in Thailand, especially in Ranong, routinely run the risk of being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. These pimps are the middlemen, buying the women from the village before they in turn sell them to the brothel owners.


Regardless of the final destination, trafficking is a highly profitable business for everyone involved. Ordinary illegal immigrants to Thailand will pay up to 100,000 baht to travel from China to Thailand through Burma with different people taking cuts along the way. Burmese guides who take women through Burmese territory are paid 30,000 Ks (7,500 baht or US $300) while transport in a van from Mae Sai to Bangkok costs 20,000 baht, which includes the bribes at up to 5 check points. Drivers will still receive a profit of 5,000 baht. Installation of names into the Thai Immigration Department's computer can cost up to another 150,000 baht. In the case of illegal migration to the U.S, the fee paid is up to 750,000 baht (US$ 30,000). On average, trafficking syndicates can clear 500,000 baht (US$ 20,000) in profit for each person sold.


If sent to Thailand, a large percentage of women will end up in brothels in Ranong province which are usually owned by Thai businessmen and "employ" both Thai and Burmese women. In many cases, the women, especially those from Burma are forced to work in conditions which amount to slavery. In some brothels, women are confined to their rooms and only occasionally allowed out under the guard of the pimps. One brothel from which prostitutes were recently freed was surrounded by barbed wire and an electrified fence.


On the 10th of June this year, Thai police raided a brothel in Ranong and found 33 Burmese women, who had been virtual prisoners comparable to slaves for periods of up to three years. Three of the women were suffering from a brutal beating they had received for a recent attempt to escape. They had been whipped with a coat hanger wire until they fainted. The police also reported that one of the Burmese women had been forced back into prostitution only three days after giving birth.


The main centre for trafficking in Northern Burma's Kengtung, in Shan State, northern Burma. Here thousands of Burmese women of Akha, Lisu, Wa, Shan and Burman ethnic origin are brought and recruited before being sent on to northern Thailand.


However, the trafficking of women has now spread to every corner of Burma and some agents travel widely in search of women to lure into prostitution. Many brothel gangs also operate in Thai border towns, especially in Ranong, Mae Sai, Mae Hong Son, Phrae, Naan and Mae Sod and directly across the border from these towns. From these towns women are sent on to Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Bangkok and to smaller cities and towns all over Thailand, especially in the South. From Bangkok many women are sent overseas through an international network.


The Crime Suppression Division Police in Thailand have conducted many raids on brothels throughout Thailand in which many Burmese women have been "freed" from the brothel only to be charged with illegal entry and prostitution by the authorities. The prostitution charges are dropped once it has been established that the women were forced to comply against their will but widespread corruption makes it is easy for those responsible to avoid imprisonment or gain early release. Until April this year, most women found guilty entering Thailand illegally were deported back to Burma and their fate left to the hands of the Burmese authorities. The women have often been deported via Ranong, which has at times meant that they have been sent straight back to the pimps. On one occasion, brothel owners paid the boatman to turn the boat around after it had got half way back to Burma from Ranong.


When women return to Burma, they face arrest for "unlawfully leaving Myanmar". One woman who returned to Burma in mid-1992, after being taken to Ranong and forced to work as a prostitute was arrested and tortured at the notorious Insein Prison because she was suspected of having contact with the armed opposition forces on the border. For the past two years, there has also been a widespread rumour that the military authorities in Burma have been injecting these women with cyanide if they are found to be HIV-positive. While present conditions inside Burma make it impossible to verify this, Burmese women are routinely repatriated, despite opposition from NGO groups and some government officials over the danger they face there.


At present, trafficking of Burmese women (ethnic Burman, Chinese, Shan and Akha) is rampant. Unless there is coordinated and firm action taken in the near future, the scourge of trafficking will continue to grow, as will the terrible spread of AIDS. For their future, there is a desperate need for more than just talk. [source: Seeds of Peace]




Hotels, motels and inns have become popular in Burma since SLORC's “open-market” economy was introduced. Recently, in Magwe City at least 6 inns/hotels were raided by the local police. One of Burma's magazines had revealed that prostitutes worked in these inns. After the arrest women were taken to jail and were tested for the HIV virus. According to a source, three women were found to be HIV-positive. In Moulmein, Mon State, many prostitutes work in the expanding hotel industry. Although some inns and hotels are situated near local SLORC offices and police stations there have been no arrests. A resident in Moulmein said, "The local authorities are bribed by owners of the inns so they are not to going to bother raiding these places." [source: Burmese magazines]




Slavery is flourishing in Southeast Asia. Burmese women and girls have become a valuable, yet disposable, commodity in Thailand's ruthless sex industry. This is the reality revealed by A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand, a scathing new study published by Asia Watch and the Women's Rights Project.


The chilling report illustrates the entire cycle of exploitation, from the initial deception to the disorienting – and by no means guaranteed – release from bondage. Using data gathered during three discreet fact finding trips, the authors clearly document the abuse perpetrated by two corrupt systems. One, controlled by a network of brothel owners and procuring "agents", robs the women's liberty, dignity and health. The other, ruled by pervasive apathy and complicity within Thai law enforcement, denies the victims any decent form of refuge, treatment or protection, let alone legal recourse.


The typical odyssey of oppression begins with the victim's delivery from an ironically safer existence within Burma's war-torn hills. Provoking this descent is an "agent", who essentially sells the women's freedom with promises of opportunity, as in the case of this teenaged Akha girl:


One day two women came to the village while "Par" was on her way to the fields. They talked to her about how much better it would be to live in the city and work... Her father wanted to go along as well as he was afraid of her being sold, but the two women said it was not necessary and would be a waste of his time. The agent told her that the daughter would be...taking care of children and would get to go to school. She gave [Per's] father 800 baht (US$ 32).


The agents prey on the poverty and naivete of Burma's rural families. In almost all cases, agents transfer money to the girls' friends, families or companions, in the dubious form of a loan or wage advance. Whatever the pretext, the women soon lose touch with their homes, and are told that the initial payment is the basis of a debt to which they are bonded, and which they must now begin to repay by working in a brothel. Though a few are introduced to servitude by short stints as dishwashers or maids, inevitably the pressure to clear the debt--which they have no way to verify or challenge--forces them into brothels.


Who can claim to truly understand the degradation that awaits these victims of the Thailand's predatory sex trade? All euphemism aside, once they enter Thai brothels Burmese women are jailed and then raped several times a day for months or years on end, stripped of the right to refusal or self-defence. The debt bondage is also an act of rape:


"Tin Tin" was held responsible for paying back the 5,000 baht that the owner of the Sanae brothel in Klong Yai had given an agent... She had no idea when she left for Thailand that she had effectively been sold into prostitution until she arrived at the brothel... When she tried to refuse, the owner... told her that with interest, she now owed 10,000 baht and said, "If you want to go home, then you've got to work, or you'll never pay back your debt."


Life inside the brothels is brutal. Beatings, death threats and other forms of torture are common. Sanitation is poor and health care all but unavailable. Escape is almost always an impossibility: lone women, illegal aliens, unable to speak Thai, often unable to point the direction home, have little realistic chance of survival. "The owner doesn't have to lock us up," explains one woman whose attempted escape was abandoned.


Indeed, one of the most discouraging findings is that many women, resigned to their temporary slavery but determined to get home, opt for the quickest way out, embracing the only hope they have within the brothel system: clearing their debt through having sex with as many customers as possible. For most, one day they will be informed that their debt has been cleared, and they are free to leave, no richer and undeniably poorer than when they began. Many women die or disappear before their debt is ever "repaid".


What about the law? After all, prostitution is illegal in Thailand, as are abduction, rape and unlawful confinement. The authors conclude that "Despite clear national and international prohibitions on procurement and trafficking, such practices are not only widespread in Thailand, but in many instances occur with the direct involvement of Thai police or border guards".


"Pyone Pyone" spent three days in Mae Sai...before a uniformed policeman...drove her and twelve other Burmese girls...to a brothel in Bangkok. Their van was not stopped at any of the police checkpoints along the way. When she got to the brothel, Pyone Pyone was told she could not leave. She said she knew there was no way to escape anyway, because all the police in the area knew the policeman who had brought her there.


Some Thai police are also reported to frequent the brothels, apparently using their influence to help themselves. In some cases, police whom the prostitutes have serviced return to the brothel for a "raid," usually during which only the women, not the brothel owners, are arrested.


Sometimes the raid is a brief hiatus in the daily routine of the women; they will return to work shortly. In others, it marks the women's transfer from one sphere of victimisation to another. Local jails and the Immigration Detention Centre are rife with abuse and neglect. Even deportation, perhaps the best hope for Burmese women determined to see their homes again, is fraught with danger and uncertainty. There is no guarantee that the cycle of abuse will be broken. Merely being dropped off at a desolate border offers no security and, predictably, often waiting are more "agents" with their promises of transportation home or better jobs in Thailand.


Does Burma seek to rescue its stolen children from bondage in Thailand? Apparently not, its response to officially repatriated victims of prostitution is generally punitive. In truth, there is no simple homecoming for most of these women, who bear the physical and psychological scars of their oppression, and who quite likely carry the HIV virus. For those who do carry HIV, the debt that was arranged to hold them in servitude also incurs a death sentence. [source: Burma Issues]




Daw San San was born in Ahlon Village in Monywa Township on 10 January 1930. She passed the 10th standard examination from Monywa Township Mula-tan-lun School in 1948, obtaining the B.Sc (Biology) degree from Rangoon University in 1954. She served as a teacher with the Central High School in 1954 and as a demonstrator at Rangoon University in 1955. Daw San San won the State Scholarship award and attended the training course on oceanography in Yugoslavia from 1955 to 1956. She also served as a demonstrator to the Assistant Director of the Labor Department from 1959 to 1988.


During the pro-democracy movement in 1988, Daw San San chaired the Labor Directorate Worker's Thamaga. As a result of her involvement in the demonstrations, she was forced to resign from her workplace. A member of the NLD, she successfully contested the General Election in 1990, being elected as the Hluttaw representative for Seikkan Township Constituency.


The authorities alleged that Daw San San attended a clandestine meeting on the formation of a temporary government in 1990. She also held discussions at her house with other elected NLD members. She was reportedly sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment.


A medical doctor and short story writer aged in her late twenties, Ma Thida worked in a philanthropic Muslim Hospital before being arrested with ten other political activists on 7 August 1993. All of them were held without either legal representation or contact with close associates until their trial started on 27 September 1993. SLORC was forced to adjourn the hearing after a large crowd turned up at the court.


[see also under “Eye-witness Accounts”, interview 12, 28, 32-33, 35-36, 38, 44, 49, 79, 92, 105, 109-112, 118, 120, 130, 132, 137, 141]


List of Incidents


On 16 January at 6 p.m., 10 soldiers from Coy 5 of IB 69 commanded by Maj Myint Kyi, ransacked Mong Young Parish, Hsenwi Township, and committed a gang-rape of which the following four local women were victims; Aye Ong (27, daughter of Pu Loi La), Pa Nang Sar (35, daughter of Pu Loi Tun), Ea Kham (32, daughter of Pu Loi Ywat Saam) and Ea Noan (28, daughter of Pu Loi Sarng Lu). [source: SHRF]


On 18 January, Maj Myint Kyi's troops of Coy 5 of IB 69, raid and ransacked Worn Parng Yarp Village, Mong Young Parish, Hsenwi Township. Awk Loi Sar, Ea Ong and Ea Noon were brutally raped by soldiers. [source: SHRF]


On 18 January at about 2:30 p.m., four SLORC soldiers from Coy 5 of IB 69 were killed and two others wounded because of a booby-trap left by the rebels. Due to their losses, the soldiers were furious and in vengeance captured one Akha woman, named Ar-way Am. Her body was soaked with gasoline and she was mercilessly burnt alive until dead. Besides committing this act, an unknown woman of the same village was not only raped by the vengeful soldiers but her two children were reportedly taken into the middle of the village and their heads were lobbed off by the SLORC soldiers. [source: SHRF]


On 27 January, IB— of LID—, commanded by A— returned to Lay Kay Village, Thaton District, Mon State, and seized two sisters, Naw Psaw Po and Naw Hser Chit (daughters of Ti Per Kyaw), tied them up and blindfolded them, and then they were gang-raped by the soldiers the whole night. [source: KNU/NMSP]


In February 1994, in Kalaywa Township, Sagaing Division, female students from primary to high school level were trained for a SLORC-sponsored "Miss Model" contest under the name of Saung Ekari (Winter Princess). As the final examinations for the students in Burma were drawing very near, parents and teachers were very much concerned about their children falling the examinations. SLORC hopes to distract students during this stressful time, remembering the events of 1988, regardless of educational standards, in addition to the denigration of women. [source: ABSDF]


Na Sa Ka ordered villagers to send thirty two teenagers to their camp


On 1 March 1994 the border administrative body known as Na Sa Ka of Area No.4 belonging to Leik-ra Village and its adjoining area under Maungdaw Township had ordered the Muslim villagers to send 32 young women to undertake nurse training and learning other vocational trainings like tailoring, etc., at the local military base for the “benefit” of Muslim girls. The order was issued by the Na Sa Ka in-charge of Area No.4. Accordingly, the Muslim villagers, who had earlier been threatened with dire consequences if opposed, are now compelled to obey the government order. On 22 March, the guardians along with their daughters went to the Na Sa Ka office where their teenagers are to stay in the dormitory till their training period was over. It is reported that presently four Muslim girls from Kumirkhali, one from Shilkhali, two from Kwarbil, three from Ayubchar, four from Dombeik, fifteen from Bawlibazar and three from Zibongkhali are now participating in the training camp and the villages fallen under the jurisdiction of Area No.4 are now ordered to arrange maintenance cost for this training programme. In this connection, the villagers of Zibaungkhali had already collected a sum of Kyat. 25,000 Ks and other villages are also doing the same. [source: MOA]


On October 31, four army personnel including one sergeant belonging to the 525th Burma Regiment, stationed at Aung Mingala outpost, entered the house of one Ma Nu Begum (25, wife of Qarim) at Headmanpara Village while she was breast-feeding milk to her baby. Finding her in a state of helplessness, the four soldiers tried to assault her sexually but could not do so as she violently refused and raised a cry. At this the four had struck her with a wooden plank as a result of which her arm was broken and her child's head was severely injured. [source: MOA]


On 25 September, that military column robbed 17,500 Ks worth of property from the villagers. During that evening, the commander summoned Naw Bwe, leader of ten households in Mi Ka Village, talked rudely and forced her to strip off her sarong and reveal her private parts. As she was afraid of death, she could not refuse anymore. [source: ABSDF]


On 1 January 1995, SLORC troops from LID 410 entered Ta Yoke Taung Village, Ye Township, committing robbery and raped 5 women, including a pregnant woman. [source: NMSP]