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Trafficked Lao teen says new rules include beatings if caught texting

Dozens of Lao teens trapped in a Myanmar scam compound since last year are seeing even their scant lines of communication narrowing following grave new threats from their captors. 

The mother of one of the trafficked teens told RFA that her daughter’s last message said anyone caught using a cellphone would be beaten 50 times with an iron bar and tied to a tree during working hours for five days. 

Parents of the teenagers, who were trafficked to a Chinese-owned casino in Myanmar and forced to participate in cyber scams, have long called on Lao authorities for aid in releasing their children. Authorities have previously told RFA that access is impossible due to ongoing conflict between Myanmar junta forces and the Karen National Liberation Army fighting an insurgency against the military regime

“What could we do to help our children be released from that place as we’ve waited for one year already?” the mother asked RFA.

Dozens of teenagers and youth from Luang Namtha province in Laos were trafficked to “Casino Kosai” in Myawaddy on Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand last year. 

There, the Laotians and scores of other young workers from the Philippines, China and elsewhere have been forced to work upwards of 16 hours a day. If they fail to dupe an unsuspecting “lonely heart” into parting with sufficient funds, they face harassment, beatings and electric shocks.

The texts from the girl, who last month was beaten until she collapsed, also suggest that Chinese police have made moves to curtail some criminal activity at the casino — but only among their own citizens. While the information could not be corroborated, the mother told RFA her daughter reported that Chinese authorities arrived this week to arrest Chinese workers, though the scam compound is still in operation.  

Kearrin Sims, a senior lecturer at James Cook University who has researched crime in Laos, said the government could be doing far more to prevent “large-scale domestic trafficking.”

“It is horrific that these vulnerable young people are being subjected to such violence and that Lao authorities are unable or unwilling to rescue them and to prevent the trafficking from occurring,” he wrote in an email.  

Some form of diplomatic intervention by the Lao government is needed. We are unlikely to know what form that takes, and the government is unlikely to even acknowledge that such efforts have been made, but certainly it could request assistance from China in rescuing the victims. Perhaps that has already (unsuccessfully) happened with regard to the recent intervention by Chinese police.”

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Additional reporting by Abby Seiff.