Bill Seeks to Modernize Parts of Burma’s Penal Code

By Yen Saning 22 June 2015

RANGOON — A proposal to retrofit Burma’s antiquated Penal Code—drafted in 1860 and last amended in 1974—has been submitted to the Union Parliament and published for public review, calling for fine adjustments and a handful of other minor changes related to terminology, election campaigning and rape.

The Penal Code Amendment Bill, drafted by the Union Supreme Court, raises most fines by tenfold to account for inflation.

“The amendment to fine payments are made relevant to this era,” said Thein Nyunt, a Lower House lawmaker of the New Democratic Party, adding that some of the adjustments, such as those related to punishment for certain types of fraud, will likely undergo further revision after being reviewed by Parliament. In its current form the bill recommends increasing the sentence from one to three years in prison for deliberate deception.

Thein Nyunt has previously initiated several unsuccessful attempts to change the penal code, including a 2013 bid to apply capital punishment in cases of child rape. He has also championed the softening punishments for some types of criminal defamation, also to no avail.

The new proposed changes to the colonial-era document are hardly comprehensive, but notably seek to raise the legal age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years old. The suggested change to article 375, however, which pertains to rape, does not address several other controversial provisions including an exemption that legalizes marital rape.

The draft also seeks to modernize terminology, replacing the current description of “officers, soldiers, sailors of airmen” to the more general “Defense Services Personnel.” Other terms will be replaced with more accurate contemporary alternatives, such as “judge” instead of “magistrate” and “life imprisonment” in lieu of “transportation.”

Fines for political campaigning on behalf of a candidate without his or her express written permission—either by holding a public forum or distributing advertisements—are suggested to increase from 500 kyats (US$0.50) to 50,000 kyats.