Witness #22 | Haresa
My name is Haresa. I was born in Myanmar, and I am now 28 years old. There are five people in my family, including me. All my siblings and both my parents are alive. They are in Rakhine state.
I am the eldest child. I have never been to school, because we were just too poor. My parents couldn’t afford to pay school fees or get me the uniform, shoes and books. I am unsure if I wanted to go to school or if I would have been happy at school.
I got married at the age of 13. My husband was a year older. My parents wanted me to be married because it was the right thing to do, according to our culture.
Was I happy? I really don’t know because I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t comprehend what it meant to be married. But everyone around me was very happy, especially my family members. And so I was happy too. The sex was very painful and very uncomfortable. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like my husband taking off my clothes. I didn’t like being naked in front of him. I was confused. I didn’t like to be touched. Everything about the wedding night was horrible.
I got pregnant one-and-a-half years later. The only time I felt happy was when I gave birth and saw my baby for the very first time. I was 14-and-a-half years old. I had two more children with my husband in a span of seven years.
Things were getting worse in Rakhine. My husband and I faced problems from the Myanmar military and the Rakhine people. One day, seven years after our marriage, my husband went to look for a new home for us because ours had been burnt down by the military. He never returned. I was told he was murdered. I was very sad but I had to think of my children’s safety. I did not have time to grieve for my husband. I fled with my children, parents and siblings to a nearby village.
I left my three children with my family and came to Malaysia, thinking I could find a better life. We arrived in Thailand after spending a month at sea.
In Thailand I was asked to work and to repay the RM6,000 I owed to the traffickers. I agreed to work, and an agent therefore sold me to a Chinese in Thailand, and I was taken to another place with other women. I didn’t know where I was being taken to, but I knew I was being sold. Luckily for me, they stopped at a petrol station. I pretended to go to the toilet, but then I ran away. I met a man who told me I was in Kedah and helped put me on a bus to Kuala Lumpur. Once I got off the bus, another kind Malaysian took me to Ampang.
My life in Ampang is unbearable. I hardly have enough to eat, and it breaks my heart that I cannot feed my children proper food. We eat rice and sometimes salted fish … usually kangkong [leafy green vegetable]. If we have some extra cash, we buy fish that is no longer fresh or is slightly rotten, for RM5 a bundle. When things are really bad, my children and I eat rice cooked with turmeric powder … just so there is some taste to it. Chicken is unheard of in my family. We eat chicken maybe once or twice a year.
I am now pregnant, and I still eat the same way. There is nothing nutritious in my food intake. I am worried for my baby. Babies need good food and vitamins. I don’t take vitamin supplements, unless I get some from the QSSD clinic that I go to, which is run by a non-governmental organisation. I haven’t gone to any hospital for a check-up because I don’t have the money for it. My baby is due next month but I have no savings at all for the hospital expenses. I had borrowed money for the birth of my second child, and still owe that debt.
At worst, I will deliver the baby at home with the help of a midwife. But midwives are also frightened these days, because home births are not allowed and they risk being arrested by the police. But what choice do I have, since I don’t have even a single ringgit for admission into any hospital? I am in such a difficult position, and I don’t know where to go for help.
I haven’t experienced getting caught in an immigration raid here or being harassed by the police. Others have, and they have told me about their experiences. But my husband was once arrested at a road block. He was hauled into a van with others, and told that he cannot work with a UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] card. He called me, so I borrowed RM150 and took the money to him, to pay the policemen. They released him after that. I am constantly worried that he might be arrested again.
I remarried and have two children with my second husband, who is a grass-cutter and earns about RM800. He is 25 years old. I only wanted one child, but ended up with two. I didn’t know about contraceptives except for the injection. I didn’t know about condoms. My husband was very angry when I became pregnant with the third child. He slapped me for not taking precautions. I didn’t tell anyone, except a friend, about my husband hitting me. I told her because I wanted to have an abortion. But she advised me against it, saying it’s life-threatening and expensive, and also a sin. That’s why I chose to go ahead with this pregnancy. Getting beaten by one’s husband is common in my community; no woman talks about it. It’s seen as an ordinary occurrence.
But my husband is a responsible man, who makes sure there is food and milk for myself and the children. But if I had a choice, I would not want to live with my husband. I want to live by myself. But I don’t have a choice. I have children. We never discuss anything. My husband blames me for everything.
I don’t want to have sex with my husband, but how can I say no? I try to be patient most of the time. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I feel trapped. I have no education and no skills. I can’t do anything here because Malaysia doesn’t accept refugees.
When I think about my children, I don’t see a future for them either. This life with my husband is not my choice. I am trapped. The only thing I hope for is proper education for my children. They must not end up being like me: uneducated, and married at such a young age. They must not grow up without a bright future.
This is a translation of the original testimony in Bahasa Malaysia.