World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


The Burmese Junta's Hidden Victims

Mark P. Lagon
Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
The Wall Street Journal Asia
November 2, 2007

The Burmese Junta's Hidden Victims

The startling images of fearless saffron-robed monks in the streets of Rangoon and the violent crackdown that followed exposed Burma to world scrutiny. What we don't see behind these images is the desperation of the Burmese people whose freedom and livelihoods have been drastically curtailed under the repressive regime.

Many of these people face literal enslavement at home and extreme exploitation in neighboring countries. They are victims of human trafficking, a phenomenon that destabilizes the region and bleeds trauma far beyond Burma's borders.

Burma's ruling generals systematically employ forced labor to maintain their repressive grip on the country. The regime forces men, women and children to work for its benefit -- providing rice to feed the huge parasitic military force, constructing roads and buildings, and serving as porters for military convoys and human mine sweepers in the battlefields in the border regions.

As the regime continues its gross mismanagement of the country and economic and social conditions deteriorate further, the number of victims of trafficking can only be expected to grow.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has reported to the U.N. General Assembly that the Burmese military conscripts children into the army. Although the regime prevents an accurate assessment of the magnitude of this problem, many believe that Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world. Burma holds another notorious distinction: The International Labor Organization considers Burma to harbor a significant share of the estimated 2.2 million victims of state-imposed forced labor globally.

Facing bleak economic conditions and the prospect of forced labor at home, millions of Burmese have had to flee their homes and villages, usually without legal documents, making them even more vulnerable to human trafficking and the predations of corrupt officials.

Among these most vulnerable are girls and women from Burma's ethnic minorities, who reside in the horseshoe of mountainous regions surrounding Burma's flat heartland bordering China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. Rape is widespread in Burma. Shan, Karen, Chin, Mon and other ethnic minority women and girls live in daily fear of sexual violence by their military oppressors, including as sex slaves in military camps in their regions. Their communities are powerless to protect them and so they flee.

After successfully escaping slavery in Burma, however, another cruel fate awaits too many Burmese. Instead of laying claim to the freedom and economic security they hoped for, they are preyed upon by traffickers and exploitative employers. They are pushed into the sex trade or into highly predatory economic sectors in neighboring countries. Some Kachin, Shan and Burman girls and women enter the sex trade in China and other neighboring countries. International Labor Organization research conducted in 2006 suggests that many of the estimated two million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand work under exploitative conditions.

The United Nations Protocol on Trafficking in Persons calls on governments to protect foreign victims of trafficking, including legal alternatives to deportation to countries where they face hardship or retribution. Greater government efforts need to be made to protect this highly vulnerable group of victims.

The only solution to address the underlying problems behind Burma's crisis is a genuine political dialogue between the regime and the Burmese people, leading to a transition to a government truly representative of the diverse Burmese population. The U.S. has intensified its financial sanctions targeting Burmese junta leaders. The international community is urging the regime to immediately and unconditionally release those detained for peaceful activism and to fully cooperate with U.N. Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

Regional leaders must recognize that the junta's iron rule, marked by night-time raids, detained political prisoners, slave-like conditions of Burmese at home and degradation in neighboring states are indicative of a rotten core -- and can no longer be dismissed as just "an internal matter."


Mark P. Lagon is American Ambassador-at-large against human trafficking and Director of the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.


More: Latest World News | Top World News | World Digest | Archives

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


WMO: Another La Niña Impacts Temperatures And Precipitation – But Not Climate Change
La Niña has developed for the second consecutive year and is expected to last into early 2022, influencing temperatures and precipitation. Despite the cooling influence of this naturally occurring climate phenomenon, temperatures in many parts of the world are expected to be above average because of the accumulated heat trapped in the atmosphere...

UN: Violations Of Palestinian Rights Puts Two-State Solution At Risk, Chief Warns
The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, continues to pose a significant challenge to international peace and security, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, said on Monday... More>>

Oxfam: Afghanistan Faces Multiple Crises

ActionStation, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, Christian World Service, Oxfam Aotearoa and World Vision New Zealand say that while Afghanistan faces chronic poverty, persistent droughts, war, the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic crisis, winter is about to bring a whole new set of challenges...More>>

World Food Programme: Millions More In Need Of Food Assistance As A Direct Result Of Conflict In Northern Ethiopia

The number of people in need of humanitarian food assistance across northern Ethiopia has grown to an estimated 9.4 million as a direct result of ongoing conflict, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today... More>>

Food: Three Billion People Cannot Afford A Healthy Diet

Approximately three billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, cannot afford a healthy diet and another one billion people would join their ranks should further unpredictable events reduce incomes by one-third, the UN food agency said, launching a new report on Tuesday... More>>

COP26: Enough Of ‘Treating Nature Like A Toilet’ – Guterres Brings Stark Call For Climate Action To Glasgow
As the World Leaders Summit opened on day two of COP26, UN chief António Guterres sent a stark message to the international community. “We are digging our own graves”, he said, referring to the addiction to fossil fuels which threatens to push humanity and the planet, to the brink, through unsustainable global heating... More>>