Myanmar human rights leaders resign over child abuse scandal

Yangon (AFP) - Four members of Myanmar's human rights commission resigned Thursday, after the body was pilloried for failing to help two girls allegedly tortured for years at a tailor's shop.

The two teenagers said they spent five years as virtual slaves in the shop in the commercial capital Yangon, where they were beaten, stabbed, burnt and deprived of sleep and food.

Their story -- told to AFP in their village outside Yangon -- has sparked outrage in Myanmar, where activists say human rights abuses remain rife as the country recovers from half a century of brutal military rule.

The president has ordered an investigation into how authorities handled the case, after their families said police repeatedly stonewalled their pleas to help them rescue the girls.

Anger has been directed at Myanmar's National Human Right Commission, which negotiated a $4,000 payout for the victims' families but did not push for criminal charges.

Four members of the country's top human rights body have been "allowed to leave... according to their wishes," the president's office said in a statement.

Among them was Zaw Win, who defended the commission's decision-making to angry lawmakers and was heckled by journalists at a press conference after the case came to light.

Six members of the tailor's family appeared in a Yangon court on Thursday on human trafficking charges, but the trial was delayed as three have still not found lawyers.

The girls were aged just 11 and 12 when a friend took them to Yangon with the promise of good jobs as housemaids.

AFP reporters who visited them saw evidence of horrific wounds, including scars from where they say they were stabbed with scissors and branded with a hot iron.

One of the girls showed fingers twisted at strange angles -- a cruel legacy, she says, of the punishments meted out to her.

They are among tens of thousands of children from poor rural areas sent to work as domestic helpers for Myanmar's growing pool of wealthier, urban middle-class households.

Some 1.7 million children are thought to be in work, according to analysis of 2014 census data.

They are often cut off from friends and families and left vulnerable to abuse, according to activists, who accuse the government of doing little to address the issue.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party took power in March, pledged to reaffirm "faith in fundamental human rights" in a speech to the United Nations last month.

The 11-member human rights commission includes members who served under the former junta government.