Ongoing Cases of Abuse Put Child Rights in the Spotlight

By Nyein Nyein 23 November 2015

Whether at home, school or in the workplace, it is not uncommon for children in Burma to be hit or slapped for an indiscretion. This type of physical admonition—in other words, corporal punishment—is not currently prohibited under Burmese law.

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 47 countries have explicitly prohibited all corporal punishment of children and at least 51 states have committed to a full ban.

The Global Initiative calls for the repeal of provisions in Burma’s 1993 Child Law and of the Penal Code that may be interpreted as sanctioning corporal punishment and for a clear prohibition to be enacted.

Many adults in Burma, including parents and guardians, seem to believe they have the right to physically admonish a child for his or her benefit, particularly inside the family home. Adults slapping or beating their children is regarded as normal among most conservative members of Burmese society.

Children from poor backgrounds suffer most egregiously. Many are forced to drop out of school and enter the workforce at an alarmingly young age, working in tea shops, restaurants or as domestic helpers where they are vulnerable to physical punishment or other abuse by unscrupulous employers.

Unfortunately, only a handful of cases of child abuse gain media attention.

A recent case involved an eight-year-old girl living in the home of a military lawmaker in Rangoon Division’s Bahan Township who was repeatedly beaten while naked by a household maid.

Pictures of the abused young girl went viral on Facebook on Thursday and the Bahan Township police have since pressed charges against the housemaid under Article 66 of the Child Law for maltreatment.

Nyo Nyo Tin, a Rangoon Division lawmaker, said further charges were likely after prosecutors gathered more evidence. However, she said the maximum punishment of two years imprisonment under Article 66 was too lenient.

“It shows the legislative sector still needs to focus on enacting laws that are effective,” she said.

Increased use of social media and mobile phone technology has enabled citizens to more easily highlight alleged evidence of injustice, share information and implore the authorities to take action.

Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, an independent consultant with the Gender Equality Network, said the public was more actively speaking out against incidents of child abuse and behavior was gradually changing. However she noted the prevailing view that adults’ slapping or beating a child “to correct them for misbehaving” was generally deemed acceptable.

Burma’s military government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and enacted the Child Law in 1993.

Article 19 of the former mandates states to protect the child “from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

However, Article 66(d) of Burma’s Child Law outlaws willful mistreatment of the child, “with the exception of the type of admonition by a parent, teacher or a person having the right to control the child, which is for the benefit of the child.”

Rights groups have cited clear and robust legal protection as vital to protecting children’s rights. Outspoken lawmaker Thein Nyunt has initiated several unsuccessful attempts to amend the Penal Code and the Child Law to provide better protections for children from sexual abuse—including proposals to apply capital punishment to rape offenders.

“If such cases of abuse are increasing, we have to reconsider amending the Child Law in order to protect children,” said Thein Nyunt, who leads the New National Democracy Party, adding that legal complaints regarding the abuse of young domestic workers were rarely filed.

“We will have to wait and see how the new legislators take up the issue [of child rights] in the parliament.”

Thein Nyunt did not win reelection in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election but pledged that he and his party would continue to work for better child protection measures.

Despite the hurdles to legal reform, with Burmese citizens beginning to pay more attention to child rights issues, Nang Phyu Phyu Lin hopes behavioral and attitudinal change will follow.

“As we were hit in our childhood, we tend to treat our kids the same way as we suffered,” Nang Phyu Phyu Lin said. “Only with more awareness for children’s rights can we stop ourselves from treating them that way.”