Concert Brings Anti-Human Trafficking Message to Burma

Jason Mraz takes the stage in Rangoon with the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda as a backdrop.
Jason Mraz takes the stage in Rangoon with the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda as a backdrop.
Event draws 70,000 to country's capital
“I had no idea of the scale of the problem until I saw the videos [about human trafficking] at the concert.”

More than 70,000 young people packed in to hear the first major open air concert in Burma in over a half a century on December 16, 2012. Front and center were messages about human trafficking and exploitation and how to avoid both.

Organized by the USAID-supported MTV EXIT program, the concert featured Grammy Award-winning artist Jason Mraz alongside Burma's top artists: Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and R Zarni, Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Lynn Lynn, Phyo Gyi and Chit Htu Wai. Thailand’s Slot Machine also traveled over to grace the stage.

Mraz headlined the free concert at Rangoon's People's Square, at the base of the magnificent 2,600-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda—Burma’s most venerated site. The event featured counter-human trafficking messaging and resources, including in-country contact numbers for counter-trafficking police and NGOs. Interspersed with the live music and messaging were anti-trafficking music videos featuring Muse, R. Zarni and Canada’s Simple Plan.

It was no accident that Burma was chosen as the site for this major event. Burmese are the most trafficked and exploited people in Southeast Asia due to a lack of knowledge and public information about this crime. Providing broad-based, useful information and counter-trafficking approaches to Burma’s people is critical to reducing their vulnerability.

"I had no idea of the scale of the problem until I saw the videos [about human trafficking] at the concert,” said 19-year-old Yae Yint Ko Ko. “I feel sympathy for the victims. I will warn my friends and family about human trafficking."

The concert follows widespread political reforms in Burma in 2011 and an agreement by authorities to air an MTV EXIT documentary series, “Human Traffic,” on national television.

The concert was broadcast live for an hour via YouTube and Google+. MTV filmed the concert, which was broadcast on their World Stage program, watched by over 300 million people worldwide and subsequently nominated for a MTV Europe Music Award in 2013. The concert was also featured in MTV EXIT’s special, “Jason Mraz: Live in Burma.” The program reached the Burma migrant community and Thais as it was rebroadcast on Burma's Channel 7 and also in Thailand.

"I think the country is, at this time, downloading lots of new information from all around the world,” Mraz told reporters at a press conference after the concert. “I've always wanted my music to be here, [for] hope and celebration, peace, love and happiness. And so I'm delighted that my music can be a part of this big download that Burma is experiencing right now."  

Based on post-event surveys, the average increase in concert-goer understanding of human trafficking was 30 percent—measured against knowledge, attitude and practice indicators—with significantly greater increases among less educated and employed groups, whose awareness rates doubled.

“I know that ending human trafficking can feel daunting or at times, even impossible, but on Sunday night, looking out at the crowd, I was inspired that it is within reach,” said then-USAID Burma Mission Director Chris Milligan. “We know traffickers use technology like cell phones and social networking sites to ensnare victims and, yet, there we were, using MTV’s global platform, which reaches 600 million people with lifesaving messages about awareness, protection and support.”

The concert was a highlight for USAID partner MTV EXIT in 2013, which raised awareness about human trafficking among at least 137 million traceable people. Over 82,000 people in Asia were directly reached through 50 onsite events—concerts, youth sessions, roadshows and screenings. The measured impact of major activities on the knowledge, attitudes and intended behaviors of those targeted shifted positively by 29.5 percent. 

In 2012, more than 5 million viewers watched MTV EXIT on-air counter-trafficking documentaries, public service announcements and concert specials in four of MTV EXIT’s six priority countries in Southeast Asia—Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Ratings from Vietnam and Burma are not available.