Myanmar: A baby back in her mother's arms
Yee Yee is only two and a half years old, and has already gone through unbelievable experiences. For 17 months he was passed from hand to hand, entrusted to five different women and young girls, ending up in prison with one of them. Terre des hommes did an exceptional job of finding and reuniting this little girl with her big sister, her big brother and their mother, last August 23rd.
Daw Hlaing Hlaing Win is a young woman in her early 30’s who in early 2010 was living alone with her three children. Her first husband had abandoned her and her second husband suffered a nervous breakdown after which he left her and returned to live with his mother. Distraught, she could no longer meet her children’s needs, feed them or send them to school and so in April 2010 took the decision to entrust her two daughters Yee Yee Win aged 1, Thin Thin Hlaing aged 11 and her 5-year old son, Kyaw Ko Tun, to her oldest sister. She went to a town on the Chinese border where she had the offer of work in a restaurant but ended up working in a massage parlour earning a living as a sex worker. She managed to send her two sisters MMK 30,000 each month (CHF 35.-) for looking after the children. But when Daw Hlaing Hlaing returned to Yangon in January 2011, her two little girls, by then aged 2 and 12, had disappeared; her 6-year-old son was being well cared for by another older sister who had arranged for him to attend school . According to several witnesses, the 2 girls were beaten by their aunt, who forced them to go begging. Daw Hlaing Hlaing Win discovered that Thin Thin had run away with her baby sister from her aunty’s home in the summer monsoon season of 2010.
Daw Hla Nwe stayed in Yangon, hoping to find her daughters again, but she had no means to set up a proper search. She went to find work, first of all for two months in a clothing factory, before finally moving to a new massage salon in Meikhtila, in upper Myanmar where her income was considerably higher. In two or three months she earned over MMK 100,000 (CHF 120.-) and sent half of this to help her sister take care of her son.
In the meantime, the two little girls had taken refuge on the streets since July 2010. Thin Thin, the elder, was arrested by the police two months later and placed in a Department of Social Welfare Training School / detention centre for abandoned and street working children. In haste, she entrusted her little sister to another girl, Aye San who also worked on the streets. This girl soon passed Yee Yee into the care of an older woman, part of a begging group, who lived in a local Yangon railway station. However, when Aye San was also arrested, this woman was no longer earning money from her and passed baby Yee Yee to another begging woman. This second ‘guardian’ passed the child to yet another station beggar, although that woman was not in good health and this third woman was arrested with baby Yee Yee in early August 2011 and sent to Insein Jail for 15 days.
Find the baby
Whilst the Tdh social worker was attempting to trace baby Yee Yee after doing an assessment and a “my little place drawing” with the older sister Thin Thin, still in the DSDW Training School, she met the second ‘guardian’ in a local market after getting information from Aye San who was back on the streets and begging again. Armed with fresh information about the real mother, Daw Hlaing Hlaing, the Tdh social worker was able to track down Daw Hlaing Hlaing to a friend’s house in Shwepyithar Township to the north of Yangon city. At the same time, the social worker was informed by other people in the local market that the woman caring for baby Yee Yee might have been arrested by the police for begging with the child.
The Tdh social worker with support from the Tdh administration team visited two different police stations and sought the assistance of a local court. The Tdh social worker went with the mother Daw Hlaing Hlaing to search for the little girl and after discussing with different policemen, found one who was able to identify the 3rd begging woman stating that she had been arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison. According to the policeman, she had a little girl with her. Now they just had to make sure that the child really was baby Yee Yee. Daw Hlaing Hlaing, assisted by the Tdh team and a local DSW staff officer, then went to the prison with a witness, Ma Aye San the begging girl to whom Yee Yee had first been entrusted in 2010 when Thin Thin was arrested. Only she could formally identify the little girl and the 3rd begging woman because the mother, Daw Hlaing Hlaing, had not seen her daughter for almost 16 months.
But despite every effort, the team was not permitted to enter the prison in order to positively identify Yee Yee. Tdh then sought the assistance of several higher authorities and after obtaining a copy of the court order of the arrested woman and baby, we were able to identify the senior police officer who confirmed details of the arrest. During this time, the mother of the little girl received financial help and much emotional support in order to deal with all the steps necessary to identify her child.
Finally, on August 23rd, mother and child came together again in front of the prison gates. It was the day when the third ‘guardian’ was released. This woman peacefully placed the child into her mother’s arms, with no problems, in the presence of the DSW staff officer and the Tdh social worker.
The work continues for the entire family
Today, the Terre des hommes team is in the process of finding out how best to help this family, principally so that the mother no longer has to leave her children alone to earn money elsewhere, especially in the sex business. For the moment there is no information about the fathers of the children.
Yee Yee will now get the necessary support from Tdh to commence a more stable family life in the care of her mother after being separated for the past 17 months. Her “journey of life” will be retraced in order to identify risks to her physical, emotional and psychological development, especially health risks, through lack of nutrition or through being drugged for the purpose of begging.
Tdh is already assisting Daw Hlaing Hlaing to find a permanent home and has identified employment with a known family as a house helper. In due course of time after mother and daughter have bonded, Yee Yee will attend a pre-school nursery. Thin Thin will leave the DSW Training School in September to be reunited with her mother in their new home. Their brother Kyaw Ko will be reintroduced to his mother and sisters through regular family visits but will continue to live with Daw Hlaing Hlaing’s sister this year and continue in his current school so that his life is not disrupted by too many changes at one time.
Rob Millman, Tdh delegate in Myanmar explains: “We will do our best to ensure that our work of family support places the best interests of Yee Yee, Thin Thin and Kyaw Ko above all other needs and priorities. The biggest challenge facing their mother Daw Hlaing Hlaing, will be to sustain the strength and resilience that she has shown throughout this testing time. After organising a family medical assessment, we now know that baby Yee Yee will need help to overcome a speech impediment. Either she has a congenital deformity of the tongue or more likely, the tip of her tongue has been clipped by one of the women who used her for the purpose of begging. The road to recovery will be a long one for this family.”.