Ma Wai, a 35-year-old single mother, was in an especially good mood on the morning of April 5 as she prepared to send packages of chicken and rice to her son’s kindergarten to celebrate his third birthday.
Then a group of soldiers arrived at her home on Mahar Thukhita street in Yangon’s Insein Township.
Her brother, 30, and elderly parents, both in their 70s, received the news shortly after the troops blindfolded Ma Wai and took her away. Having heard multiple stories of the junta targeting the family members of anti-coup protesters, they decided to go into hiding.
But they never imagined the soldiers would be so cruel as to take Ma Wai’s young son.
They calculated that it would be safer to leave Thant Hpone Waiyan at the Best Choice Kindergarten with his teachers and friends. But troops arrived shortly after taking Ma Wai to kidnap the toddler too, a relative who would like to remain anonymous told Myanmar Now.
“It doesn’t make sense,” the relative said. “They’d already taken the mother. There was no reason for them to take the child as well.”
Friends of the family speculated that the soldiers took the boy in order to psychologically torment Ma Wai as a means of extracting information from her. The whereabouts and status of the two are unknown.
Thant Hpone Waiyan was Ma Wai’s only son. As well as caring for him, she had the role of breadwinner in her family and ran her own small ecommerce business. Ma Wai has worked to make money for her family since she was just 10 years old, when she would sell food.
After her husband left her while she was pregnant with Thant Hpone Waiyan, she took out loans to support her family.
“She had been making money for her parents and her brother. Even when she was married, she let her husband stay home while she went out to work. She’s such a bright and honest woman who can’t stand injustice,” said the relative.
“The family has now lost the person they rely on the most and the child they love the most. Everyone’s shaken to the core,” he added.
Myanmar Now was unable to contact Ma Wai’s parents or brother for comment. Their names have been withheld for their security. None of Ma Wai’s family members are politically active. Her father used to work as a driver.
Ma Wai, a graduate of the Yangon Technological University, has never sided with a political party, but after last year’s coup she was so angered by the military’s actions that she joined street protests.
“She wasn’t a fan of any political parties but she took part in the protests solely because it was unfair and she just couldn’t stand by and watch,” said a friend of Ma Wai’s.
Ma Wai’s relatives have received no information about her or her son since they were taken, and they dare not come out of hiding in search of her for fear of being detained themselves.
“The family doesn’t dare to follow her as there’s a risk that the military would arrest the family as well,” said the friend. “It’s hard as her parents are both very old now. They’re in a very tight situation.”
The junta has denied kidnapping Ma Wai’s son. Military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told Radio Free Asia on April 7 that reports of Thant Hpone Waiyan’s detention were “nonsense”.
“We haven’t arrested any child.,” he told the broadcaster. “There was absolutely no such incident.”
In January Zaw Min Tun admitted the junta had detained some children “out of necessity”.
Since seizing power in last year’s coup, the junta’s forces have killed 132 children and detained another 216, two of whom are facing death sentences, according to figures from the underground National Unity Government (NUG).