Imagine your worst fear coming true: A complete violation of trust.
This is exactly what happened to Nan Pyung, a native of Kachin, Burma, who narrowly escaped the realms of bride trafficking.
The Student Activities Board held a human trafficking awareness event “Kidnapped and Sold” on Nov. 11 in the Student Center Ballroom to expose the truths of bride trafficking.
“The main purpose of us bringing Dr. Kamler and Nan Pyung was to bring more awareness of human trafficking to the UCA campus,” music Chair of Student Activities Board junior Emilia Barrick said.
Kachin State is located in the north of Burma, Southeast Asia. Burma has only in recent years opened to Westerners. The living conditions and educational opportunites for women are limited.
Erin Kamler, an Asian trafficking researcher and writer, took to the podium first to give the audience some background information about the circumstances in Kachin.
“In 1994, a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independent Army came to an end,” Kamler said. “When war erupted again, 100,000 women and children were displaced from their homes.”
Kamler studied bride trafficking in a safe place, although she was only five miles from the frontline of the war. After Kamler explained why she is studying bride trafficking and why it occurs in Burma, survivor Nan Pyung joined her on stage to share her story.
Nan Pyung went to school until she was 11. It was then that her father died and she had to drop out to find work to support her family. The family home had no electricity and she was forced to do her homework by candlelight. Her mother’s income wasn’t enough to support her brother and sisters, so Nan Pyung took it upon her self to find a job.
Pyung moved into Burma, where she began working on a farm doing manual labor. She earned $5 a month and decided after two months to move on to another job.
She moved to China, where she started working for a family, completing all the daily chores. Pyung was only 13 and after a year of not getting paid, she decided to leave the family.
She found a job working in a restaurant where she earned $20-$30 a month. She made some new friends at her workplace. One night, a colleague asked her to come to a karaoke bar. She kindly declined, but her colleague was persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The colleague told her that if she didn’t come she would disown her. Pyung came from a family with strong cultural traditions and didn’t think it was an appropriate place for her to be hanging out. Pyung gave in, although she wasn’t comfortable there since there were many men and people smoking.
Her colleague’s brother was hosting the party and asked if she wanted to get some fresh air. Pyung agreed and they spoke outside for 20 minutes. It was then that a taxi pulled up beside her and she was pulled into the taxi. She told the driver she didn’t want to go, but the taxi driver insisted that she wasn’t paying and that it wasn’t her choice.
Pyung was taken to the third story of a guesthouse and locked in a room. She was scared and alone and just wanted to go home. She asked to go to the bathroom where she sat and cried for 10 minutes. The male became aggravated and stripped her down, confiscating her clothes and locking into a room where he tried kissing her. Pyung pushed the man off her and tried to escape, but the door she thought would lead her outside led to a bedroom with five naked males laying in a bed. She was dragged back into the guest room.
When it got dark enough she smashed the glasses of the male that abducted her and jumped out the third story window. Upon landing, she broke her back.
“If I hadn’t jumped from the window I would be somewhere in trouble in China,” Pyung said.
The student and faculty audience inside the ballroom sat in complete silence as Pyung told her story.
“Around 60 people ran over to see what had happened, but no one offered to help, as they didn’t want to get involved,” Pyung said.
Fortunately, the male who had abducted her took her to the hospital. It was there that a case worker spoke to Pyung and nursed her back to health before she was released. She moved back to Kachin, Burma, to live with her family and help other victims.
Pyung later found out that her friend from work recruited women and sold them to her brother’s friends as brides. Pyung was lucky that she was able to escape.
“Women don’t want to tell their stories because there is a stigma placed on them if they do,” Kamler said. “They are looked down upon.”
This was Pyung’s first time in the United States and she was in awe of the cleanliness of the streets. She was emotional as she spoke to the audience but hopes by sharing her story that it will create more awareness about bride trafficking and how people can help.
This article appeared in the Nov. 18, 2015 print edition of The Echo.