From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues

When we first heard about a 15-year-old domestic worker from Myanmar seeking help at a shelter in Singapore in 2016, we thought it was an isolated case. But at the shelter, we met three other teenage maids from Myanmar who'd also run away from their employers. One said she'd been physically abused; another fled after her male employer asked her to take a shower with him; a third told us she'd been raped.

Why were children working in Singapore? How did they even get here? We decided to investigate.

In our 2016 documentary, we uncovered a thriving trade in the trafficking of underage girls from Myanmar to Singapore. We discovered that this was happening despite laws in both countries designed to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable young women.

In 2014, Myanmar banned all female citizens from leaving to become domestic workers overseas. But we learned that, in villages across the country, recruiters were still telling impoverished families their lives would improve if they let their daughters go to Singapore.

What they didn't say, of course, was that doing so was illegal and that there would be risks involved. What the agents got in return was a cut of the hefty recruitment fees the girls were obliged to pay.

According to Singapore legislation, domestic workers in the wealthy island state must be at least 23 years old. However, agents regularly bribe officials in Myanmar's Immigration Department to alter birth dates on passports, allowing them to send underage girls into the country.

Some of the girls we met were barely out of their teens, but with fake documents, they were able to avoid detection in Singapore. They told us that before leaving Myanmar, their agents would instruct them to never tell anyone their real age.

The documentary went viral both in Singapore and Myanmar. But 18 months later, we discovered that very little changed. The trafficking continues.

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Advisory Committee: Yves Berthelot (France),  PV Rajagopal (India), Vandana Shiva (India), Oliver de Schutter (Belgium), Mazide N’Diaye (Senegal), Gabriela Monteiro (Brazil), Irakli Kakabadze (Georgia), Anne Pearson (Canada), Liz Theoharis (USA), Sulak Sivaraksa (Thailand), Jagat Basnet (Nepal), Miloon Kothari (India),  Irene Santiago (Philippines), Arsen Kharatyan (Armenia), Margrit Hugentobler (Switzerland), Jill Carr-Harris (Canada/India), Reva Joshee (Canada), Sonia Deotto (Mexico/Italy),Benjamin Joyeux (Geneva/France), Aneesh Thillenkery, Ramesh Sharma, Ran Singh (India)