Burma (MNN/PRAD) — Burma's reforms may be getting the country a lot of good press, but the change seems to be surface-deep.
In 1963, the passage of the Land Acquisition Act nationalized ownership of all land across the country, which has led to its misuse and widespread confiscation practices under the guise of project construction, expansion, establishment of industrial zones, and building army bases.
According to groups like Partners Relief and Development, there appears to be an increase of land theft as state agencies and domestic firms encourage foreign investment.
As word of the new reforms spread, more farmers began protesting the land grabs and telling their stories. Mission Network News spoke with a Partners Relief & Development (PRAD) staff member recently to find out what he discovered. This was the team's first research trip into Burma's heartland since the country began opening up.
What they found was disheartening. He says, "Chinese companies had come in and, through the backing of the militia, they were able to confiscate land from the local farmers, leaving many of the farmers in the area with no land to provide for their families."
In some areas, these lands are transformed into a new form of captivity. "The greatest problem they have is addiction to opium. It turned out that all of the surrounding fields had been planted in opium, and when we asked how many of the men and boys were addicted to opium, this one woman told us that 100% of the men and boys are addicted to opium."
If not entrapped by the drugs, then it was through poverty. The staff member explained, "Companies tell the farmers to grow corn as a cash crop. Then around harvest time, they close the border and these farmers are not able to sell their crops. Someone then comes in and gives them 10-15% of the value." Since the farmers can't survive on that, "They are forced to take out loans from the local militia again, and the militia continues to get richer, and the local people are driven into deeper poverty."
The most heinous enslavement turned out to be a double-bind. The PRAD staff member met with farmer Loong Maung* in a remote village in Shan State, Northern Burma (name of village withheld for security reasons) where the only change they've seen has been in their family, and not for the better. "He had six and a half acres that had been confiscated by a Chinese company to build a mine. When the village protested, they paid him 4% of its value, and then later, a different company took his remaining two acres, leaving him with nothing."
With no way to provide for his family, his 14-year old daughter, Nam Wan* was forced into prostitution. The staff member notes that the team was told "'This situation that you just saw is widespread throughout the area. That family is not unique. That family has three daughters. One of their daughters is in prison for selling amphetamines. They oldest daughter has moved to Thailand to find work (in the sex trade).'"
The team, deeply disturbed, figured out a solution to help this family. However, "The word came back that they appreciated our help and would accept our generosity, but they said that their daughter would continue to work."
That decision was both frustrating and enlightening. It put the spotlight focus on the core issue, says this staff member. "We were thinking that development projects could help solve this problem, but we realized very quickly through this situation, that the Gospel has to work in hearts and help transform a society that has been forced into a situation where all morals have eroded."
Now that they know the issues behind the scenes, says this staff member, "We are developing strategies to figure out how we move from providing cross-border aid to IDPs suffering from attack, to setting up a business platform to reach into more of Burma and being able to literally transform societies."
Keep praying for wisdom as the field unfolds. Pray that God would show the clearest way to helping the Burmese out of poverty, both spiritual and physical. Pray for true transformation.
Check our Featured Links Section for details on how you can respond.
*name changed for security reasons