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Stopping child slave labour in Myanmar

August's Peace Mail is from Myanmar where your monthly gift is making a difference in the lives of children who are trapped in slave labour. Our partner, the Myanmar Council of Churches works across communities and with the law to release children and return them to their families. Let Saw Law La tell you his story here.

Children working in a restaurant is a common sight Image Frame

I am Saw Law La, I am 26 and I have been a Community Organiser (CO) for three years for the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) in Pathein. I have just finished my university education to become a lawyer and I am doing an internship before my graduation later this year. My parents are country farmers and I am the first person in my family to ever attend university. My parents are very proud!

I had heard of the work of the MCC in protecting the poor and received training as a Community Organiser. My training has been in peace building, counselling, child protection and child rights. Through the MCC, I have been assisting in labour disputes for the last 3 years. Pathein is a port city on the Bassein River and draws many rural people who hope to find work and send money back to their families. Sadly, I have often seen cases where children are the ones that are most exploited by rich employers. The injustice makes me very angry.

I would like to share with you a case I have recently helped with: Kim Zaw* was only 12 years old when his mother in a distant village borrowed 20,000 Kyat (AUD$20) from a wealthy restaurant owner in the city. The deal was negotiated by a leader in the village where the family lived. To pay off the debt, Kim Zaw had to work in the restaurant and only earned $1 a year for 5 years, and then only $10 in total over the next four years. The owner exploited Kim Zaw and used him as slave labour, working constantly in the restaurant and household.

“Children are the ones that are most exploited by rich employers.”

After more than nine years Kim Zaw’s mother pleaded for him to leave the restaurant owner. This made the owner very angry and he actually sued Kim Zaw’s family for K180,000 (AUD$180) despite the family only ever owing K20,000. I acted as an intermediary and gave the family advice as they had no idea what to do – and I got Kim Zaw a lawyer to fight his case.

In court, the owner was asked to show evidence that the family owed him so much money. The owner produced a receipt with the boy’s signature but we proved it was a fake that the owner had made himself. Kim Zaw and his family won the case. The judge asked Kim Zaw if he wanted to sue the employer after such a long period of mistreatment, but Kim Zaw decided to put the matter behind him and didn’t sue.

Without the work of the MCC the likely outcome would have been that the restaurant owner would have successfully sued the family and Kim Zaw would remain in slave labour for the rest of his life. I feel very happy when I am able to help the poor who are exploited by their employers.

I am from an ordinary family and we have faced these issues of exploitation ourselves which is why I want to help as a Community Organiser. Thank you for your gifts and supporting us as we help these children.

- Saw Law La

* Names have been changed to protect identities

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Please give generously to continue our life-saving work here or find out about how you can become an Act for Peace Partner.

Act for Peace is working within Myanmar, supporting our partners the Myanmar Council of Churches which works to build capacity for a democratic community of the future. The MCC provides training for Community Organisers with the aim of mobilising local people to act for justice. These training sessions include awareness-raising on child protection, human trafficking, land-grabbing and civic education. Using this training these Community Organisers successfully solve cases, including finding and releasing children who are victims of trafficking, with help from the International Labour Organisation, UNICEF, Anti-Trafficking Police officers, lawyers and government officials. Your gifts this month will provide more opportunities for Community Organisers to continue to help rescue children who are trapped in slave labour conditions.

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