NAYPYIDAW — The Supreme Court of Burma has ordered district courts—not township courts—to administer trials for child rape cases in an effort to better tackle the rising number of cases reported across the country.
Supreme Court judge U Soe Nyunt told Upper House lawmakers about the order on Monday.
When there is clear evidence, child rape trials will be held and justice will be dispensed at the district court level and not by township courts, the judge said.
During Monday’s Upper House session, lawmaker Daw Nwe Nwe Aung asked if authorities would take urgent measures—such as assigning life imprisonment, the maximum penalty—to deter child molesters and protect children from sexual abuse.
Daw Nwe Nwe Aung, who represents Mon State Constituency 2, complained that child molesters were typically given less than seven years imprisonment. Judge U Soe Nyunt explained that township court judges and magistrates could not assign penalties greater than seven years.
“The township judges can only impose sentences that are within their judicial authority,” said U Soe Nyunt. “Therefore, we need to make sure that child rape cases will be tried in the district courts,” which can assign longer jail terms.
Lawmaker Daw Nwe Nwe Aung welcomed the changes that the Supreme Court had ordered.
“District courts can hand down a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if the rape case includes a completed medical report,” she told reporters.
The problem of child rape came under intense scrutiny in 2016 following a significant rise in the number of reported cases. Some women’s organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs) called for imposing the death penalty on child molesters.
The Supreme Court also instructed township courts to turn over any child rape cases which were currently on trial to the district courts.
“And the district courts are supposed to impose a heavy penalty on criminals if they are found guilty,” said U Soe Nyunt.
The judge called sexual abuse of children a sinful crime that tarnishes society.
He said there were 671 reported child rape cases with strong evidence in 2016, and district courts tried 587 of those cases. The courts assigned life imprisonment in 36 cases, 10 years in jail for 240 cases, and 7 to 9 years for 237 cases. There were 72 cases that received a sentence of less than seven years.
Two cases involving rape and murder resulted in death sentences.
The victims of rape usually file complaints in the township courts, which have limited powers. Once the district courts take on more child rape cases, this will help to deter potential rapists, judge U Soe Nyunt said.
The Supreme Court has also instructed the district courts to give timely reports on their rulings in child rape cases.