Ministry Expands Efforts to Combat Domestic, Sexual Violence

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 21 June 2017

YANGON — The Women’s Development Division under Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement expanded its efforts to help women fight domestic and sexual violence.

The division will provide necessary help to victims within one week of receiving their phone calls, said division director Naw Tha Wah.

It has two established 24-hour hotlines: 067-404666 and 067-40477, to which women can file complaints, she told The Irrawaddy.

“Women can call those numbers for assistance in cases of violence. They can leave their phone numbers if they do not want to provide detailed information to male receivers and we will respond,” she said.

The division will help any woman living anywhere in the country, she added. The complaint lines were launched in October and have so far received more than 80 complaints.

Upon receiving a complaint, division staff will visit the victims at their homes within one week, help them obtain medical treatment and file a lawsuit. If the victims are young domestic workers or other women who need legal assistance, the division will file a lawsuit on their behalf, she explained.

“Some women don’t want to file lawsuits; they just want to receive medical treatment. We comply with their wishes. Currently, [hospitals] only treat victims when they are admitted with a police letter regarding the case. But we are negotiating with concerned authorities to allow treatment as an emergency response whether the victim files a complaint with the police or not,” she added.

The division also assigns case managers to provide professional help to victims in specific cases, she said.

However, civil society organizations (CSOs) in ethnic areas have criticized that the government is not doing enough to help women who have suffered from sexual abuse in conflict areas.

A number of local Kachin CSOs released a joint statement on June 19—International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict—demanding that the government launch a mechanism to prevent sexual violence against women in conflict areas like Kachin State plus a complaint center where victims can file complaints in person or by phone.

Khun Jar of the Kachin Peace Network said, “There is hardly a program for this [prevention of sexual abuse] run by the social welfare ministry here. I have not yet seen a plan or action in this regard by the concerned ministry.”

In Kachin State, where there have been cases of unwanted pregnancies and abortion as a result of sexual abuse, the government does not run a post-abuse contraceptive program.

Naw Tha Wah said her division has a sufficient budget from the government to help women anywhere in the country during the 2017-18 fiscal year, though she declined to reveal the amount.

A draft law to prevent the sexual abuse of women will soon be submitted to Parliament, she added.

There have been several unresolved cases of abduction, sexual abuse and murder of women in Kachin State since 2011. An ethnic Kachin woman was abducted by the Tatmadaw’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 321 on Oct. 28, 2011, and is still missing. The case of two ethnic Kachin volunteer teachers who were raped and killed in Shan State on Jan. 19, 2015 remains unsolved.

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to clarify that the Women’s Development Division was not newly incorporated, but rather, has recently expanded its nationwide efforts to stop domestic violence.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.