Lawmakers to Push for Harsher Child Abuse Penalties

By San Yamin Aung & Htet Naing Zaw 23 November 2016

RANGOON — Female Lawmakers will push the Union government to adopt harsher penalties for sex offenders in the upcoming parliamentary session following widespread outrage over recent child abuse cases, according to Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe, a National League for Democracy Upper House lawmaker.

She said that within the next few days a member of the parliamentary bill committee will question whether the government has plans to review penalties for child sex abuse offenders.

Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe said that a group of female parliamentarians have set up a Facebook page called “MPs of Anti Child Rape” to work together with civil society groups to combat child sex abuse.

There have been several high-profile child sex abuse cases reported almost daily over the last month. Many of the victims were under ten years of age and had been sexually abused by close relatives or people known to their parents, according to police reports.

Reports suggest that many of the perpetrators of child rape cases either escaped punishment, avoided jail time by compensating victims, or were released after short prison sentences.

Netizens and activists have initiated campaigns calling for the death penalty or harsher sentences against child rapists. Social media users posted and shared slogans reading “the death penalty is the only sentence for someone who rapes underage people.”

Article 376 of Burma’s Penal Code states those convicted of rape “shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Ko Zaw Thurein, from the group Sagaing Region Youth Network, said that the group met with lawmakers in Naypyidaw last week and discussed the call for harsher penalties. He said that some child rapists are serving only two-year prison terms.

“I want [offenders] to be made impotent for their whole lives and handed 30 years’ jail sentence,” Ko Zaw Thurein told The Irrawaddy.

“Most are demanding the death penalty but the rule of law is weak in our country, and I’m afraid there might be extrajudicial killings of the offenders if the death penalty is introduced,” he added.

From January to September 2016 the Burma Police Force recorded a total of 761 rape cases—of which 461 were committed against minors under the age of 16.

The number is significantly higher than previous years with 682 reported in 2015, 756 cases in 2014, and 734 cases in 2013. Civil society organizations have suggested that numbers are increasing as more victims report crimes due to public awareness.

U Aung Myo Min, director of the NGO Equality Myanmar, said at a Rangoon press conference last week that the legislature, the government, civil society groups and the community must work together to protect children and to reduce child rape cases.

While civil society organizations can raise public awareness about sexual violence against children and encourage victims to report cases, the government and the Parliament need to work to enforce the laws, he said.

“Parents’ views also need to change, they cannot implicitly trust neighbors to look after their children,” he added.

“Parents also need to educate their children about which parts of their bodies should not be touched by others.”