Sold in Myanmar and trafficked to China

By Jonah Fisher
BBC News, Kutkai township, Shan state, Myanmar

media captionJonah Fisher reports on woman and children being bought, sold and trafficked from Myanmar to China

It's been a year since Khin Khin Oo was sold by her father.

Eight thousand yuan ($1,300; £830): That was the price for a cute four-year-old Burmese girl from a broken home.

Crouched in the doorway of her bamboo house, Khin Khin Oo's grandmother Ma Shan told me the story. "I grow corn and rice but my son is a heroin addict so we have no money," she said.

Ma Shan's family life is in disarray. Just a couple of metres away in the dark of the house, her son sits listening to us talk about him, staring blankly ahead.

Ma Shan's daughter isn't in much better shape. She ran off with another man (according to Ma Shan, having been drugged with spiked orange juice), leaving her two small children to live with her parents.

One of them, an energetic boy, plays in the mud by the stilts of the bamboo house, as we look at pictures of his sister Khin Khin Oo.

"One day her father Soe Khine came back for her," Ma Shan recounted. "But after she'd been away four days I knew something was wrong."

image captionKhin Khin Oo was sold by her troubled father in Myanmar
image captionThe family was plagued by financial problems, Ma Shan said
image captionThe Chinese town of Ruili is located near the Burmese border

Fearing the worst, Ma Shan turned detective and, with a village elder, went to speak some of Soe Khine's friends. They quickly found out he was in financial trouble.

"He'd lost all his money playing cards," she said, shaking her head.

At that point, the Burmese police became involved. They found Soe Khine and he confessed that with the help of a local Kachin woman, he had sold his daughter to a Chinese trafficker.

The police followed the trail to the Chinese border town of Ruili, where they discovered that Khin Khin Oo had been traded again, this time for 12,000 yuan ($2,000; £1,277), to a childless couple who wanted to adopt.

After a week and a joint operation with the Chinese police, Khin Khin Oo was rescued and returned to her grandmother.

"While she was gone, I didn't even want to eat. I was so worried," she said.

Luckily Khin Khin Oo had been well treated, with the Chinese couple seemingly unaware that she'd been trafficked.

She was returned to her grandmother in Hankan who, fearing for her safety, sent her back to China this time to live with an aunt.

image copyrightAP
image captionChina's one-child policy and the preference for sons has created a shortage of women in the country

Missing women

The trafficking of Burmese children like Khin Khin Oo is thankfully rare.

But Myanmar's north-eastern border region with China has become notorious for the exploitation of young women.

China's one-child policy and its preference for sons has created a shortage of women and wives.

Demographers estimate that by 2020, there will be a surplus of 24 million men, desperately looking for spouses.

The trafficking that we hear about along the Burmese border is complex, with the families often complicit in the financial transaction being made.

At his table in a camp for displaced people in Namkhan township, community leader Myint Kyaw is flicking through photos of missing women.

"These are four girls aged between 15 and 18 from Kutkai township who went to China to work. They haven't been heard of for eight months," he said.

"This lady is 26 years-old and missing too. We're trying to trace her through our community living in China."

In all, he estimates that about 10% of the local Ta'ang women have been sold or trafficked in some way.

image captionLamo Bokdin, a victim of human trafficking in Myanmar, says she is now in the process of rebuilding her life


Lamo Bokdin is one of those women. When she took a job in a restaurant in the Chinese border town of Ruili, she thought she was a normal employee.

"Then my boss told me I didn't need to work at the restaurant anymore and that I was to marry her brother," she said.

Forty thousand yuan ($6,500; £4,152) had apparently been paid to secure the deal.

"At first I refused but my boss said she would just sell me to someone else." So Lamo was forced to move to her husband's home in Beijing. For three months, she was kept as a prisoner in his house.

"I wasn't allowed to make phone calls and I had to stay inside. My husband said we could only go and visit my parents when we had a baby."

Then after three months of captivity Lamo found a way to escape.

"I lived at the top of the two-storey building. The house had small windows covered with netting - so I cut the net with scissors and jumped down into the street," she explained.

"Luckily, nobody who saw me land cared. So I took a car to the train station where the police helped me get a ticket out of Beijing."

Lamo now shares a tent with her sister and is rebuilding her life. She earns a small amount of money weaving traditional skirts.

She is one of the survivors of a thriving trade in human lives.

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