A mother’s fears realized

March 23, 2010

WCRP: “I don’t want to return until I have earned enough money to start a shop for my family in my hometown,” said Mi Yi, a Mon woman from Kaw-kha-lein village, Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State, southern Burma.

In Mi Yi’s hometown jobs are scarce, wages are low and most villagers survive by cultivating rice or tapping rubber trees. There are about 400 households in the village and the school goes up to 6th standard.

Three years ago Mi Yi, her daughter Mi Mon, and her husband migrated to Thailand with a broker, through the Three Pagodas Pass crossing. Mi Yi did not want to leave her village, but without a job or an income, she had no choice.

“When we were in Burma, we didn’t have enough to eat and we were indebted to our neighbors. I wanted to work in my hometown, but we had no money to open a shop. We migrated to Thailand in hopes of finding better jobs,” said Mi Yi.

When Mi Yi’s husband was a New Mon State Party (NMSP) solider they moved a lot, but there was always food on the table. After they had children, two daughters and two sons, the problems started. Severe food shortages and a lack of work, forced Mi Yi to uproot her family and move to Thailand. At the time she was very concerned about pulling her youngest daughter out of school, but she felt that moving was important for the family’s livelihood.

Mi Yi explained, “When we migrated to Thailand I took my youngest daughter too, even though she was attending school. She was very young and I was worried if I left her alone in the village she would be harassed by the male villagers.” Mi Mon, Mi Yi’s youngest daughter, is now 16-years-old and has not attended school since the family left Burma.

Mi Mon elaborated, “I had to go with them to Thailand; my sisters and brothers had already migrated. If I hadn’t gone to Thailand, I would have had to live alone in my village. I was so sad to leave school, I was 13-years-old and in 4th standard when we left Burma.”

Over the past three years, Mi Yi and her family have had various factory and construction jobs throughout Mahachai, Samu Sakhon, Thailand. At first, working without Thai ID cards, they received low wages and regularly had to hide from the police during routine factory checks.

“I remember one time while we were working the police came and checked the factory. Luckily, we escaped by running from the building. Now we have Thai ID cards and we work on construction sites building houses. We are constantly changing jobs and we never have extra money. Even though my daughter, husband and I work everyday we never have extra money. If we work today, we can eat today,” said Mi Yi.

When Mi Mon first arrived in Thailand she took care of her niece while her aunt and parents worked various jobs. After awhile, Mi Yi felt it was unsafe for her daughter to be alone in the apartment all day, so she found Mi Mon a job working beside her at a construction site. Mi Mon and her parents now work together from 8am to 6pm, each making 180baht (about 5.50 USD) per day. Of the 100 plus employees at the construction site, around 15 are also Mon. The family currently lives in a small studio apartment, which is partitioned into bedrooms by a sheet. The community they live in is predominantly Mon, and many of the cultural traditions they found in their old village persist.

On 6 of January, Mi Mon was feeling a bit ill and went to bed early. As she slept, a 50-year-old Mon man climbed through a hole in their apartment wall and into bed with her. Mi Mon explained, “Around midnight while I was deeply asleep, he came in and laid behind me. When I woke up I saw him in my bed, I was shocked and afraid of him. I ran to where my parents were sleeping and cried to my mother.”

“I know this guy… he raped a woman in our village,” Mi Yi said when she saw the man sleeping in her daughters bed. Mi Yi and her husband shouted at the man, but they could not wake him. Around 5 am, the man independently stood up and left through the front door. Mi Mon and her parents smelled alcohol on him as he departed.

The exact situation Mi Yi feared, and diligently tried to protect her daughter from, came to life in their small studio apartment. “I am depressed about the situation, my daughter is so young,” stated Mi Yi.

After the incident Mi Mon’s parents, hoping to shield their daughter from further pain, kept quiet, but the intruder did not. “My daughter told me, nothing happen with that man, but he bragged to his friend and said he slept with my daughter and held her,” added Mi Yi.

Two weeks after the incident the man’s family insisted the two be wed. The mother of the man told Mi Yi, “I want my son and your daughter to be married, if your daughter doesn’t marry my son, it’s ok, but, because of this situation, your daughter will loose face.”

In Mon culture, if a woman is sexually harassed, the elder generation strongly encourages the couple to wed. If the couple is in love, or agrees, is not a concern; it is only important that the man takes responsibility for the woman.

“I didn’t know him and I had never spoken to him before. My co-workers told me, he told them, he had a small gun, so many people are afraid of him. Nothing happened [sexually] with him and really I don’t want to marry him,” said Mi Mon. Mi Yi is supporting her daughter’s decision not to marry the man.

A couple weeks after the incident, Mi Yi filled a formal complaint with the Labor rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN), an organization that helps migrants in Mahachai. They are now in process of suing the man for sexual harassment.

“I don’t think women, who have been sexually harassed, should be forced to marry their attacker,” said Mon Women Organization’s (MWO) Sangkhlaburi advisor, an organization that promotes Mon women’s right throughout southern Burma and Thailand. “Sometimes, in these situations, after the marriage, the man runs away and the woman are left alone to raise the child, and, the community judges her and no one supports the woman. It is a very difficult situation …  and as far as I know, Mon culture insists women only have one husband, ever.”

According to LPN, “the majority of migrant workers in Mahachai and their families are from Burma… but Mon constitutes the biggest ethnic group in the province.” There are around 2 million Burmese migrants in Thailand and, according to The Irrawaddy, “the largest Burmese migrant community” is in Mahachai.

As WCRP and various news and watchdog organizations have repeatedly reported, instances of sexual abuse and coercion are common threats for Burmese migrants in Thailand.

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