In Myanmar: Survivors Help Improve Anti-Trafficking Interventions
Phyo (not her real name), age 23, is from Myanmar. When she was 17 years old, she was deceived by a broker and sold to a Chinese man to be his wife in China. As she refused to have a baby with him, she was abused by her husband and his mother-in-law. Aside, Phyo never received any money, unlike promised by her broker. After 8 months, she managed to escape and returned home, but the problems didn’t stop there.
“When I was home, I was very depressed and ashamed. People treated me like a prostitute. I stayed at home and did nothing for two months,” she said.
Phyo was speaking at a “Survivors’ Workhop”, an initiative started in Myanmar in 2009 by the Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons (CBTIP) in cooperation with World Vision Myanmar and UNIAP, now UN-ACT. Since then, the gatherings have been held annually.
Key to the workshop is to build the capacity of trafficking survivors, so that they can protect themselves from re-trafficking and manage to successfully (re)integrate into society. At the same time, it provides a platform for survivors from different parts of Myanmar to share their experiences with each other.
Through the program, Phyo realized that she was not the only person to have had such bad experiences. She found many new friends, felt empowered and got involved in community anti-trafficking awareness projects. Besides, she started a small business as a dressmaker with her older sister and took on a leadership role in a survivors’ self-help group in her township selling clothing and materials.
“I don’t want anyone to fall into this living hell as I did. I never thought I’d become a victim of trafficking. I try to share my story with the youth and young women. I will be satisfied if they can learn to prevent human trafficking from my story. It would also be great if we can educate our children about trafficking at schools,” Phyu said.
The program also sees survivors develop recommendations to improve protection & (re)integration services, which they discuss in dialogues with policy makers and developmental agencies.
Thanks to these exchanges, a number of concrete improvements to procedures and key services have occurred, including speedier cross-border repatriation; reduced compulsory shelter stays upon return; extended temporary accommodation in the border areas; re-issuing of National Registration Cards (NRC) for trafficking survivors; speedier and more widely available passport application systems; processes for temporary passports; or the formation of government-led community watch groups as a trafficking prevention tool.
Human trafficking is an ever-changing phenomenon that requires constant learning, especially also from the voices and concerns of those affected by it. As the project has shown, survivors are a key source of information to further develop our interventions. With their experiences and insights, they add credibility and knowledge to the design of anti-trafficking responses, and provide an important reality check on the functioning of the procedures and services in place.