JE YANG CAMP – A 17-year-old Kachin girl was locked in a room for three weeks while a Chinese couple tried to sell her as a “temporary wife” to the highest bidder.
“I cried all the time, but they just told me I had to marry the man they chose for me and that I would never go back home again,” said Seng Pan, recently returned to Je Yang refugee camp from her ordeal across the border in Yunnan, China.
“Some men offered 20,000 Chinese yuan (3,200 United States dollars) to 30,000 yuan for me, but the couple wanted to get at least 50,000 yuan,” she said.
Seng Pan was lucky her captors were so greedy. One day when the couple left the house she managed to break out of her room and call authorities at Je Yang to inform them of her plight.
Camp officials alerted Chinese police.
“The police sent an undercover agent to pretend he wanted to buy me, and then then arrested the couple for human trafficking,” she said. “They sent me back to the camp.”
Since June 2011, when fighting broke out between the Myanmar military and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an estimated 140,000 civilians in the northern state have been displaced and forced to live in refugee camps, many of them situated along the Chinese border.
Many women in the camps have been forced to seek work in China to support their families, making them vulnerable to abuses.
“Human trafficking is common in the Kachin state, especially in refugee camps near the boarder,” said Khon Ja, a woman leader from the non-governmental Kachin Peace Network.
After a 17-year ceasefire with the government fell apart more than two years ago, the Kachin state has been divided into areas under state control and those under the control of the ethnic rebels.
According to government figures, there are nearly 43,000 displaced people living in 106 camps under state control, and more than 80,000 living in KIA-controlled camps.