Burma Today Mizzima Democratic Voice of Burma Irrawaddy Kao Wao S H A N Network Media Group
Article / Current Affairs
Burmese youth vital signs: Poor. Prognosis: More of the same.

(By Pop Htaw in Bangkok, February 2003)

The Burmese Military Intelligence and opportunistic businessman are preying upon Burma’s poorest families-exploiting them for the sex industry. A serious problem that challenges the social security of Burma’s predominately Buddhist society, a religion that has remained broad, deep, and indelible despite decades of brutal military rule and the denial of civil and political rights. However, since the 1990 general elections, military officers, who vigorously deny any involvement in prostitution, have shamelessly come to dominate the sex industry for a quick profit.

“It’s a routine social entertainment for officers, they come out after dusk and after the local electricity has been turned on, often you see the Burmese Military Intelligence (MI) officers sneaking into hotels seeking sex and entertainment. They are jittery about being seen by the local residents and warn the hotel staff to be alert for onlookers before heading into the hotel,” said a local senior from the Mon political community in Moulmein.

Many Burmese young girls in their teens work as prostitutes at the Japan and Than Lwin hotels in Moulmein, the capital city of Mon State. Two ‘showrooms’ are reserved (arranged) by the staff without fee for the top Burmese military and intelligence officers, and for an unknown fee, where girls are probably bartered for a high price, the hotel staff is obliged to pick beautiful girls for selection, virgins are a special request, and a full course dinner complements any transaction.

“Young girls, mostly from the restaurants in Moulmein are to be on call and available for providing sex”, said Min Nyan, a Moulmein university student. There are about thirty restaurants in Moulmein, but the massage rooms provide service to the officers as well, local sources say.

Aye Aye is a girl from Rangoon works in Ye, south from Moulmein, who found herself alone and unable to pay the high tuition fees at the university, she easily found work as a prostitute to help pay for the costs. As she is young and fairly attractive, she earns a substantial amount of money, but her boss, a Burmese MI, takes a large share of her earnings. “Therefore, her personal income is unable to help support her family as well, which only adds to her personal shame of being a prostitute”, said a local Mon Newspaper reporter investigating the story.

Girls often are reserved for the MI and top army officials and don’t receive any pay on their first day, let alone their choice of a client. The economy in Burma offers little work opportunities to youth from villages, and working at a decent job requires education and experience, girls from the poorer families are more at risk of being encouraged to sell their bodies. “No choices for young people, no support, no guidance or asylum, so most become prostitutes and work full time, seven days a week, like the poorer ones who fail the 10th standard, unable to pursue their studies they work in the sex industry to support themselves”, said a Mon social worker. Many feel they have no choice, but survival and helping their families to buy even the most basic of things, such as food and clothing can be a possible source of esteem for some.

According to students from Moulmein University, about thirty girls at Kyaw Restaurant in Moulmein, young as fifteen, offer their services at a cost of Kyat 3,500 per hour, the source added. Younger girls at the restaurants often apply heavy make up to make themselves look older and change their appearance daily to please customers, especially at the Ramanya Restaurant, where older girls are sidelined to work the tables.

Major Lin Oo, a popular, but corrupt Burmese army officer just opened a restaurant in La Mine, northern Ye Township where many young girls work. La Maine is located between Ye and ThanPhyu Zayat highway where many local businessmen temporarily stay. The girls wear sexy dresses in the late evening and regularly walk about the village in order to attract local customers. This restaurant is known as ‘London’s Breast’ because girls sell London Cigarettes from a tray held in front of their breasts to customers entering the restaurant. According to recent gossip, Maj Lin Oo’s is having marital problems with his wife who had an affair with a young man from La Maine village in February; the restaurant has been temporarily closed locals say due to the incident.

Most restaurants are owned or partly owned by the Burmese MI in Mon State but local ordinary businessmen have a stake in the business allowing them to operate restaurants and other luxury businesses. A restaurant named ‘Ka-pya Ser Yeik Myone’ is owned by the Chairman of the Local Peace and Development Council, near Rail Way Station in Ye Town. Some other Burmese army officials also have an illegal share in the business as does in Moulmein or other local businessmen operating in Mon State.

The restaurants have become exclusively for military clients, with local residents frequently being turned away if a proper identification card is not presented upon entering, like the Ramanya Restaurant. Girls, 13 and 14 years old work solely to support poor families at several restaurants in Rangoon, the capital city of Burma. Often the girls make deals with hotel staff, like Ngwe Moe hotels in Rangoon and Moulmein that have an on call service under arrangement with the hotel staff who receive a commission. Girls in Mon state receive Kyat 2,000 in the local town, but girls in Three Pagodas Pass and border areas make as much as Baht 200-400 per customer. (Black currency exchange rate is Kyat between 25 per Baht 1)

For the poorer families of the population, no family or state security is provided for the younger people, who now more than ever face a dismal future. Many are either forced or encouraged to work as prostitutes in Mon State while others are abducted or raped, often in front of their families and the community, and in many cases beaten and killed by Burmese soldiers. Thousands more make their way across the border to Thailand at the hands of traffickers sold without their consent and become prisoners as bonded labour. Although largely patriarchal, Thai brothels under the command of a “Mama San” command the girls like slaves, woman operators in the sex industry believe they are doing the girls a service by protecting and providing them with a livelihood.

Even more alarming given the recent UN estimate of the high rate of HIV/AIDS in Burma, sex workers are not encouraged to use condoms, a ploy to attract regular customers not wanting to use them, many thousands more are illiterate regarding HIV/AIDS and don’t use condoms. BaYinMa (Queen) restaurant in Ye town is known as a place that does not encourage its use, as a way to attract local customers.

After the general elections in 1990 and the denial of democratic reform, the current military authority allowed its senior officers to run private businesses to earn extra income especially in the non-Burman nationality areas, including the border areas that attract international tourists. Most looked to the sex industry for a quick profit and built hostels and restaurants without legal licenses, and at the expense of a whole generation of youth that provided the labour needed over the years, the sex industry flourished and fuelled the black market economy. While local border towns grew rapidly, the past 10 years has seen the standard of living for the vast majority of the population dropping considerably. With no choices or work options offered by the military dictatorship and with virtually no future prospects in a shattered economy, the many students leaving high school turn to the sex industry to make money for survival. Culturally, Burma is a Buddhist society and has been for over a thousand years, now it faces an unprecedented social crisis with many young people making the second choice left to them, by packing up and leaving to neighboring countries, the ones left, face poverty, exploitation and isolation.

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