NAYPYITAW—The President of Myanmar on Tuesday signed into law an amendment to the Penal Code allowing courts to jail child rapists for life.
Upper House lawmaker U Aung Thein submitted the amendment proposal to Parliament late last year. The new provision was published in the March 26 issue of the state run newspaper Kyemon Daily.
“I submitted the proposal to impose sentences of 20 years’ to life imprisonment for those who rape children under 12 years of age,” U Aung Thein told The Irrawaddy.
The amendment also defines a life sentence as imprisonment “until death.”
The amendment supplements Article 376 of the Penal Code, which imposes a minimum of 20 years and a maximum term of life for rapists.
U Aung Thein said he submitted the proposal because he felt the maximum sentence for child rapists of 20 years in prison prescribed in the original version of the law was not sufficient.
As lawmakers had differing views on his proposal, it was put to a vote in the Union Parliament. “It has finally come into effect some four months after I submitted the proposal,” U Aung Thein said.
Most women’s rights activists have welcomed the new provision. There were even demands for capital punishment to be imposed on rapists after an alarming increase in child rape cases in the former capital of Yangon and elsewhere in the country early last year.
“This amendment will be a deterrent. It will help protect women and girls,” said Mai Thant Zin Oo, the founder and director of the Asho Women Organization.
Child rape cases accounted for 61 percent of all rape cases nationwide in 2016; 64 percent in 2017; and 68 percent through April 2018, Deputy Home Affairs Minister General Aung Thu told the Lower House of Parliament in June last year.
The child-rape victims in cases reported from January through April last year included children aged as young as 2 to 5. Girls aged 14-16 were the most vulnerable. Most of the perpetrators were aged between 19 and 50.
Along with stepfathers and other relatives, some rapes were even perpetrated by fathers. Most of the offenses were committed by strangers.
The Myanmar Police Force claimed to have brought 96.72 percent of the offenders in child-rape cases to trial in 2016; 97.99 percent in 2017; and 67.17 percent from January through April last year.
Twenty-year prison terms were handed to 18 perpetrators in 2016 and to 25 perpetrators in 2017. One was sentenced to death in 2018.