Friday, August 18, 2017

Ava trial hears of 2014 complaint

As the high-profile Ava Tailoring shop abuse trial enters its sixth week, a local administrator gave testimony yesterday about a 2014 complaint, which appeared to complicate allegations that the child maids were enslaved against their will.

A trishaw drives past the Ava tailoring shop on 40th Street in Yangon's Kyauktada township on September 20. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesA trishaw drives past the Ava tailoring shop on 40th Street in Yangon's Kyauktada township on September 20. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

The administrator of the quarter, who is being kept anonymous, told the court yesterday that guardians of the three girls had gone to him in September 2014 to register a complaint that they were not being allowed to meet with their daughters. The complainants also said the girls’ salaries were not being paid.

“The two fathers of Ma Tin Tin Khine and Ma San Kay Khine, and the brother of Ma Thazin, together with the village administrator and the quarter administrator from Kawhmu township reported at my office that they were not allowed to meet with the girls, and that the Ava Tailoring shop family didn’t pay their salaries. So I notified the Ava Tailoring shop family to come to my office and solve the problem,” the administrator said.

He explained that after some negotiation, Ma Tin Tin Khine went back with her father while Ma Thazin’s brother took five months’ worth of his younger sister’s salary. Ma San Kay Khine refused to go back with her father, so he left with three months’ salary.

“Ma San Kay Khine ran back to the Ava Tailoring shop from my office and when she was taken back to the office, she said it was safer to stay here rather than at her village. Normal children would not speak those words,” he said.

During cross-examination yesterday, the defendants’ lawyers focused their questions on establishing whether their clients had committed human trafficking or not.

“Do you agree that the matter between the Ava Tailoring shop family and the guardians of the girls, which you negotiated at your office, is not human trafficking?” the lawyer defending Daw Tin Thuzar, one of the six accused, asked the administrator.

“Do you know that the family who is being accused under human trafficking law is not the one that took advantage of the salaries of the girls? Do you know that the parents of Ma San Kay Khine are the ones who asked her to work as a home maid for five years and took her salary – including the compensation money … the girl received only a very small portion from her earnings,” the defendant’s lawyer Yarzar Tun said.

The administrator’s reply to both questions was the same: “I don’t know.”

The administrator said that, after the September 2014 negotiations, he did not deal with any further direct complaints on the matter.

“Neither the guardians nor anyone else has ever made a report to me since the negotiations in 2014. However, I did receive some calls from the neighbours about the noisy situation at the Ava Tailoring shop,” he testified.

The six Ava family members are facing charges under the Anti-Human Trafficking Law, the Child Law, and sections 325 and 326 of the penal code, covering punishment causing grievous harm and voluntarily inflicting grievous harm. The defendants are also involved in two separate lawsuits filed by the Kyauktada Township Police Station and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

The case was initially brought to Kyauktada township police, but the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission became involved when that complaint was not followed up.

The MNHRC attempted to broker an out-of-court settlement. The alleged abusers provided a combined K5 million (US$4065) to two of the three victims’ families on September 15. When an article about the alleged abuse and subsequent settlement was published, it prompted immediate and overwhelming public backlash.

Four members of the MNHRC have since resigned. The President’s Office is investigating the commission’s handling of the case and any potential wrongdoing.

The case’s next hearing is scheduled for November 10.