No Changes to Burma’s 60-Year-Old Prostitution Law, Police Chief Says

By Nyein Pyae Sone 10 July 2013

Burma’s Parliament has no plans to amend a law on prostitution written more than six decades ago and still used to prosecute sex workers today, the country’s top cop said during a legislative session on Tuesday.

Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun, who also serves as the deputy home affairs minister, revealed that no changes to the 1949 law would be forthcoming in response to a question from a female lawmaker, San Thar Min.

“I have already anticipated that they will not amend the law for prostitution,” San Thar Min said. “The authorities who deal with the issue of prostitution know this law is out of date.

“They even understand how other countries deal with prostitution, such as by offering medical treatment to solve problems,” she added, referring to programs in some countries that address concerns like the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The lawmaker, who represents constituents in Naypyidaw, said negative social perceptions of prostitution and cultural factors were holding back reform of the law.

San Thar Min had requested information on the number of prostitution cases being handled by law enforcement, with the lawmaker expressing concern that poverty and unemployment were driving more women into the sex industry. She also asked for details on any programs aimed at helping sex workers reintegrate into society.

Authorities prosecuted 1,956 prostitution cases in 2011, 3,226 cases in 2012 and 640 cases so far this year.

Kyaw Kyaw Tun acknowledged a link between prostitution and poverty, but defended the vigorous prosecution of sex workers, citing the deterrent effect that the threat of prison time provided.

Criticizing their work ethic, he claimed that prostitutes often could find legal jobs, but preferred the more lucrative sex industry.

Concerning government efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate convicted sex workers, Kyaw Kyaw Tun said underage prostitutes are offered opportunities to continue their studies or receive vocational training in a variety of trades.

Those convicted under Burma’s law on prostitution face up to three years in prison.

“They [lawmakers] may understand that they will have to amend this law one day, even though they did not want to do so today,” San Thar Min said.