Burma

Govt Pledges Truth will be Revealed in Toddler Rape Case

By The Irrawaddy 2 July 2019

NAYPYITAW—Rising public demand on social media for justice in the rape investigation of a 3-year-old girl prompted a state leaders’ public assurance on Monday that the truth about the case will be revealed.

The girl, 2 years and 11 months old at the time, is alleged to have been sexually assaulted at the Wisdom Hill private school in Naypyitaw’s Zabuthiri Township on May 16. Her mother opened a complaint with police the following day.

U Zaw Htay, the President’s Office spokesperson, posted on his Facebook page Sunday that the office also wants justice for the girl, but that it takes time for the proper authorities to investigate the matter.

“Since we heard about the incident, state leaders and the Ministry of Home Affairs have verbally instructed the police force to investigate the case until the truth comes out. Queries are being made and they continue reporting to their superiors,” he wrote.

The public and the media became aware of the case when a Facebook post about the assault went online a few days after it occurred. By the end of May, masses of Facebook users had begun changing their profile pictures to a “Justice for Victoria” image and urging police to investigate. (Victoria is not the girl’s name but a female name being used to represent the campaign.) Major celebrities and public figures from across Myanmar have since joined in.

The “Justice for Victoria” message has broadened into a wider call for an end to all sexual violence, especially against children.

Myanmar actress and online celebrity Ma Aye Thaung, aka Aye Witri Thuang, told The Irrawaddy that child rapists must be hung to prevent future cases.

“I feel really sad whenever I see news [of child rape]. If I were the victim’s mother, I would kill [the rapist],” she said.

The case has also attracted the attention of artists, who have taken stands with the girl and her family in pushing for the truth of the case to be revealed. Among them are famous Myanmar rocker Lynn Lynn and his wife, the actress Chit Thu Wai, who have twin girls nearly the same age as the victim.

“We stand with her on our own conscience. We will be involved until justice has been served for the girl,” the rocker wrote on Facebook.

The girl’s father told The Irrawaddy the family will try every legal means of getting justice for their daughter but said they are frustrated that, within such a narrow window of time and places that the girl was without supervision, a culprit has still not been identified.

A medical exam performed after the incident found sperm on the girl’s body and she was started on a 28-day course of post-exposure prophylaxis to protect against potential HIV exposure, which she has completed.

“We want the perpetrator arrested. We aren’t making things up—this is about our daughter’s future,” he said, referencing statements released by the school’s lawyer cautioning against the spread of rumor and speculation while police continue to investigate. They had also threatened libel lawsuits for anyone slandering their reputation.

The “Justice for Victoria” Facebook image. / Facebook.

On Monday the Department of Social Welfare shut down 15 nurseries across Naypyitaw that were operating without proper licenses, including Wisdom Hill.

“If the perpetrator is arrested sooner, we can be freed from this experience quicker,” the girl’s father said.

The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of Naypyitaw first apprehended a male suspect on May 30 but Police Major Min Han said on June 24 that that suspect had been released without enough evidence to press charges. Local police transferred full control of the investigation to the CID on June 3.

On Monday, a CID senior officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Irrawaddy that the case is not as simple as public demands make it seem. He said 13 suspects have been identified, nine of them related to the school.

“We questioned 50 witnesses, and again cross-examined and checked the DNA of 13 [suspects],” the officer said.

When asked about public criticism on the progress of the case, the officer said the police are doing their job, and couldn’t reveal more lest they tip off the culprit or encourage them to flee.

Over the last few days, social media users began sharing pictures of two boys, the sons of the school supervisor, saying they were the perpetrators. The anonymous officer told The Irrawaddy that the two boys’ DNA was checked and did not match that found on the girl’s body, so they could not be arrested.

“We checked on both [boys],” the officer said.

Child rape is not uncommon in Myanmar. More often than not, the perpetrator is someone close to the child.

“We are both working parents. We entrusted our daughter’s safety to Wisdom Hill. We don’t want any other children to suffer like her, in our country or in the whole world,” the girl’s father said. “This case is not some mundane complaint. The administration should have acted more immediately.”

As parents, he added, opening a complaint with the police was difficult.

“We wanted urgent action taken right away, but we’re afraid the response was weak and delayed, and a gap opened up,” he said. “We don’t know much about the law, but we want the culprit to get the highest punishment possible, to deter this from ever happening again.”

Both he and his wife have taken unpaid leave from their jobs, unable to work since the assault, he said.

“We cannot focus on work until the culprit is detained. Our sole aim is to seek justice for our daughter,” the father said, becoming emotional. The girl’s birthday had just passed.

Moe Moe and Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyitaw.

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