Crossing the Border: Three Burmese Women Speak

May 5, 2004. Prostitutes wait for clients at a Thai-Malaysia border town. Photo: AFP/Jimin Lai

Burmese national Ni Ni Aung was 13 years old when she was taken to Thailand to work:

“They said: ‘Come and work here in Thailand.’ My parents were in trouble over there. They had nothing to eat, so I came here to work… My mother herself sent me off with my clothes. She said: ‘Don’t worry about anything over there. You’ll live well.’ She took me to Mae Sot and she left. From there, an uncle took me to Bangkok.”

“I went and sold flowers around 6 p.m. and came back at one or two in the morning. There was a child there. I had to take care of that child. I didn’t eat breakfast. I had only two meals a day. I had to work in the evening, so I didn’t eat dinner. If there was rice, I’d eat it. If there was instant noodles, I’d eat them.”

When I got home without selling the flowers, they hit me with wire in front of the house and pulled my hair and … slapped me. They slapped until I bled.

“When I got home without selling the flowers, they hit me with wire in front of the house and pulled my hair and … slapped me. They slapped until I bled. They also hit my back.”

Bakery nightmare to support mother

Thi U was 18 when she was forced to begin working in a bakery to support her mother and AIDS-infected stepfather:

“My mother was sick. My family was poor. We didn’t have money, and I wanted to take care of my mother. …Our house was in Keng Tung. We sold it and came to live and make a living in Thailand. We lived in Mae Sai. My grandmother worked on the farm there.”

“My mother married my stepfather and my stepfather had AIDS. My mother also had it and later she became ill. They had no money, so I went to work and gave the money to my mother. [My mother died and I went to work in a bakery where] they swore at me, hit me, and bullied me.”

Sold into prostitution, infected with HIV/AIDS

“And then they gave me only a little bit of money. And then I couldn’t go anywhere. I just had to work inside the house...I couldn’t go out. They didn’t let me. I told them I didn’t want to live there any more and I wanted to go home. They said they wouldn’t allow me to go back. They said I would have to just stay there and work. They asked me why I didn’t want to live there, and they hit me.”

An ethnic Lahu girl from the Burmese-Thai border area traveled to Chiang Rai, Thailand, across the border Tachileik, Burma, with a man, who sold her into three years of prostitution. Ma Nai, a fellow Lahu, described the girl’s ordeal:

“That person told the girl, ‘I’ll take you there. I’ll take you to your aunt in Thailand,’ and took her away with him. That person lied to her. That person lied to her and sold her into prostitution. [Later, the girls became pregnant]. At that time, she couldn’t eat and she was really skinny. She didn’t know that she was pregnant. She told her boss that she couldn’t eat, so the boss took her to a clinic.”

“I asked how many times and she said about four times. She said she got to sleep well and live well for about a week. At that time, she didn’t have to have sex with men. After a week, they’d give her medicine and they’d ask her to sleep with men again. She had to go back to work.”

“Her health deteriorated very much and she became extremely thin. And lumps appeared on her body. At that time, she didn’t feel well and she couldn’t eat well, so they took her to a clinic and they were told that she was HIV positive. So they told her: ‘Your health is not good. Go back home. They tested your blood and they found a plus sign.’ They didn’t know what HIV positive was. They only told her a plus sign was found. So the girl asked, ‘In that case, don’t I have to work anymore?’ They said, ‘No, you don’t have to. Go back. We’ll take you back up to Mae Sai.’“

“They took her up to Mae Sai. When she tried to cross the bridge, she couldn’t because she didn’t have any ID card. So she went across the water. At that time, there were boats. She crossed in a boat and returned. She has died since then.’“

Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Please continue to send contributions intended for RFA’s Women in Their Own Words project to .


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