A missing Lao teenager trafficked to Myanmar to work and who was beaten by Chinese men in a Chinese-owned casino in Myanmar earlier this week has been found alive, her mother told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.
The girl, whose name is being withheld to protect her from further harm because she is still in Myanmar, is one of dozens of teenagers and youths from Luang Namtha province in Laos who have been trafficked to neighboring Myanmar.
Many have ended up in a place the workers call “Casino Kosai” in an isolated development near the city of Myawaddy on Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand, where they are held captive in nondescript buildings and forced to participate in cyber-scams for criminal groups.
One scheme involved pretending to be a lonely heart in Thailand looking for love, striking up a conversation and establishing a phony online relationship, RFA reported in April. Laotians, along with Filipino, Chinese and young people from African countries, were forced to work up to 16 hours a day.
Lao authorities say efforts to help the youths have been hampered by a lack of access due to heavy fighting in Myanmar’s Kayin state, one of the epicenters of intense conflict between pro- and anti-junta forces.
But anti-trafficking experts and Lao youths who have been trafficked accuse Lao authorities of complicity.
One mother whose son is still trapped at the casino told RFA that authorities she contacted made “no progress at all” after receiving her request for help freeing him.
Following the beating, the men took the girl, 17, to work in a nearby casino, where she believed she was the only Asian worker. The girl still had her own cell phone, so she texted her parents about her whereabouts.
After they received news that their daughter was still alive, the parents informed Lao government officials and asked them to intervene, but so far, they have done nothing, the parents said.
Photos of the girl obtained by RFA show her thighs and lower legs covered in purple bruises.
Her mother requested that RFA not publish the photos so as to not put the girl in further jeopardy.
Workers’ parents file complaint
Eight parents of trafficked Laotians signed and submitted a two-page complaint on July 31 to the Anti-Trafficking Department, Office of the People’s Council, both in Luang Namtha province where they reside, and to Lao police headquarters in the capital Vientiane.
The girl’s situation came to light on Aug. 1, when RFA received text messages from a Lao worker’s parents in Luang Namtha province saying that seven Lao workers had been harassed, beaten and subjected to electrical shocks by Chinese men on July 25 because they failed to meet their work quotas.
The Chinese men beat the 17-year-old more than the others and until she collapsed because they found out she had sent a text message to her mother on the boss’s cell phone while working. The other workers didn’t know what had happened to the girl after the men took her away, so her parents feared she was dead.
“On July 25, her daughter sent a text message to her using the boss’s telephone,” said another parent of one of the casino workers. “When he found out, he beat her and [subjected her] to electrical shocks many times until she collapsed.”
The men then told casino security personnel to carry her outside, the woman said.
“But at that time, the Laotians who worked with her didn’t know where they were carrying her to, making them concerned for her life,” she said.
The woman also said she wanted the Lao government to help her child leave the Myanmar casino as soon as possible and that all other parents who have their children stuck there also need help.
“All of the parents of the workers want the government to help because we don’t know what to do to help them out of there now,” the person said. “We sent all the documents they needed in order to get them out from there almost a year ago already but nothing [has been done].”
After other Lao parents in Luang Namtha province who have sons or daughters trapped at the casino in Myanmar heard about the beatings, they submitted written requests for help to various Lao authorities.
Another parent of a Lao worker at the casino told RFA that the group of adults delivered another letter to authorities in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos as well as sent a copy to police in Vientiane on Tuesday.
An official from the Anti-Trafficking Department in Vientiane who is aware of the situation told RFA on Wednesday that authorities in Myanmar informed his office that they tried to search for the Lao workers, but could not access the casino due to ongoing armed conflict in the area.
Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.