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She shares the one-room house with eight members of her family and a scourge of deadly mosquitoes that fester in the thick, green water beneath her feet. A television used to decorate one corner of the house, balanced on a shelf to avoid the floodwater and sewage that seeped in through the floorboards while seasonal rain thrashed the hand-built structure from above. But they no longer have to worry about the television getting wet in monsoon season.

They pawned it for cash earlier this year. Than Than Htwe has struggled to support the household since her grandchildren moved in last year. A year later and she has paid her sister far more than the original sum through these daily interest payments, but the debt still stands. She is not the only one to be crippled by high interest loans in Yangon.

In a recent survey of three townships, Save the Children discovered that 85 percent of households have taken out a loan from a local moneylender. While the loan may rescue them from an immediate financial emergency, the interest rates — which range from 5 percent daily to 30 percent monthly — trap the borrower in a perpetual cycle of debt.

But stable jobs are difficult to find. Many families rely on members who work as trishaw-drivers, street vendors or casual labourers for their main source of income. These jobs do not offer regular employment and can be severely impeded during the monsoon season, which lasts for almost half the year. Her son-in-law earns a similar wage as a casual labourer, but is offered only 10 to 15 days work a month. Than Than Htwe took out another loan, this time from a neighbour living across the street.

In the morning I am worrying about having to borrow more money, in the evening I am worrying about paying it back and at night I am worrying about tomorrow. I want to escape this. While one of the main reasons for contracting heavy loans was health-related costs, an increase in food prices means more and more people are relying on predatory loan sharks for basic living expenses.

In the areas surveyed by Save the Children, more than 50 percent of households took out a loan just to buy food. This came as a particular shock to their director of programme development, quality and advocacy, Katy Welby. Their research also shows that 50 percent of children drop out of school at the age of While education is nominally free in Myanmar, the cost of snacks, notebooks and informal tuition fees are too much for families struggling to repay their spiralling debts. Her second daughter dropped out after just one year of education and was married at Her third daughter, now aged 14, stays at home to help her mother to look after the grandchildren.

Out of school and with high familial debt, she too is vulnerable to child labour, early marriage or perhaps worse. Ma Ei Pyi lives in a one-room shack that clings to the banks of a polluted ditch in Hlaing Thayar township, its bamboo foundations almost floating on the thick layer of refuse that suffocates the water below.

She used to sell vegetables from a stall outside her house, which she shared with her father and two children while her husband worked abroad as a fisherman. She made just enough money to feed the family, until both her father and husband died. She was unable to afford the five percent daily interest rate and the debt quickly tripled. Ma Ei Pyi entered the industry upon the recommendation of a neighbour. She talks about her decision with candour while her year-old daughter, crouching on the bamboo floor, listens intently.

Debt was repeatedly cited as the trigger for women entering the industry. However, it rarely solved the issue as their families often borrowed money against future work, putting the female sex workers further into debt. As well as supporting her two children, Ma Ei Pyi is now the main breadwinner for her mother, three siblings, sister-in-law and nephew who all moved into her one-room house. Sex work can be lucrative. But sex work is a dangerous job in Myanmar, which outlawed the industry in The police know who we are, they know where we meet the customer, they wait there all the time and when they see us they threaten us.

She says she was among a group of sex workers forced to accompany a police officer to a local guest house and have sex with him in order to avoid being arrested. There are almost no sex workers left in Hlaing Tharyar township … It is completely impossible [that we took bribes] because we are serving our duty to arrest them. To avoid the police, Ma Ei Pyi now works with a broker who sends her clients in return for a cut. The relationship is supposed to be reciprocal, with Ma Ei Pyi recruiting virgins from the impoverished squatter camp where she lives.

It is not clear who is creating the market for virgins, but some fear that it might be Chinese businessmen who believe that having sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure them of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. I want her to finish her education.

Aye Winn Sann slouches in her chair, waiting impatiently for a customer. Business at her restaurant is not going well. A few curious faces peer beneath the sun shade to see what is on offer, but no one stops to eat. She lives in Dala, a township built on marshland south of the Yangon river. It is a 10 minute ferry to downtown Yangon, but Dala is a world apart from the colonial hotels and grand embassies that line the northern shore.

Jobs are scarce here and poverty is rife. Aye Winn Sann says she has never heard of someone selling sex to pay off their debt. Or taking out of school. According to her, the risks fall solely on the money lender. According to Aye Winn Sann, interest rates must be high to accommodate the one in four chance that someone will not pay.

According to the Money Lender Act , those wanting to lend money must obtain an official . d money lenders must adhere to strict ing rules and any contracts that contain compound interest or interest rates that exceed 12 percent per annum for a secured loan or 18 percent per annum for an unsecured loan are void under law. Few pursue the legal path, concealing their operation under the cover of another business. But while they may be operating beneath the law, they are not, according to Mike Slingsby, criminals at heart. Nobody from the regional government was available to respond to the allegation that they are colluding with illegal money lenders.

Wedding photos, graduation photos, passport photos; even the plug sockets are plastered with photos. As she rummages through a cupboard bursting with cosmetics, an image peels away from the wall, breaking the mosaic of faces that follow her every move. She emerges, proudly brandishing a pair of hair straighteners which she bought last month.

The salon looked very different nine years ago. A lone mirror hung from the wall and the equipment stand housed only some scissors and a comb. Her fortunes changed when the 34 women living on her street in North Okkalapa township started a collective savings group in , hoping it would break the cycle of debt afflicting their lives. After investing for three months, members are illegible for a low-interest loan. They pay 2. If someone has an emergency they can immediately call on the group for an interest-free loan. Win Win Soe made her first withdrawal to help her daughter to study psychology at college.

Once she paid off the first loan she took out another, this time using the money to buy new products for her salon. Others have started making shoes, handbags, musical equipment and skincare products — the entrepreneurial energy on Dawna Street is tangible. The group is supported by local NGO, Women for the World, which has helped to set up 80 collective savings groups across Myanmar, effectively breaking the cycle of debt for nearly 4, women.

Its impact, however, is localised. According to the World Bank, poverty in Yangon stands at 34 percent , just three percentage points below the national figure for rural poverty. Save the Children have begun piloting a socioeconomic graduation programme, pioneered by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee Brac and celebrated for its impact on rural poverty. It is, however, an expensive programme, involving a series of cash and asset transfers at the household level, and Save the Children are yet to secure a donor.

Until then, more families will fall in to debt, more children will be pulled out of school and more women will be forced into the sex industry to repay their loans. As the sun sets on Seikkyi Khanaungdho island, Than Than Htwe begins her search for another neighbour who can cover her daily interest payments. Army has carried out mass killings of Muslim minority, UN rights office says, in possible ethnic cleansing. President s a law requiring Buddhist women to seek permission before marrying outside their faith. By Katie Arnold.

in Seikkyi Khanaungdho township. As many as More from Features. Stateless and helpless: The plight of ethnic Bengalis in Pakistan. Most Read. Driver in China successfully sues Tesla for fraud. Taiwan scrambles jets after largest ever incursion by China. Qataris cast ballots in first legislative elections.

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The Muslim woman breaking barriers in sex education in Myanmar