Proposal to Assign Death Penalty for Child Rape Hits Setback

By San Yamin Aung 2 February 2017

RANGOON — Burma’s Lower House voted down a proposal on Thursday that would have imposed the death penalty against those convicted of child rape.

Daw Khin Saw Wai, a Lower House lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, submitted the proposal to amend Article 376 of Burma’s Penal Code.

“I just learned from the chief justice that the amendment would be considered only if it is written in English,” Daw Khin Saw Wai told reporters. “So I will discuss that with legal experts and will submit my proposal again.”

Union Chief Justice U Mya Thein told lawmakers on Thursday that amendments to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code needed to be presented in English because the original codes were also written in English. But the proposal from Daw Khin Saw Wai, which would have amended Article 376, was written in Burmese language, and so the Parliament voted not to discuss the proposal.

The proposal would have raised the punishment for a child rape conviction—rape of a person under age 16—to life imprisonment (which is actually 20 years) or the death penalty. Those convicted of a gang rape would automatically face the death penalty.

The existing punishment in Penal Code Article 376 ranges from 10 years to life in prison, but it does not identify a separate punishment for rape of a minor.

The problem of child rape came under intense scrutiny in 2016 after a significant rise in the number of reported cases. Women’s rights activists and members of the public voiced concern and organized campaigns calling for harsher penalties against sex offenders. Some have demanded that the death penalty be applied.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued an order to have child rape cases handled at the district court level, and recommended that child rapists be assigned the heaviest possible sentences. The district courts are allowed assign harsher punishments than the township courts.

According to police records, child rape cases made up 61 percent of all reported rapes in 2016. In 2015, that number was only 46 percent.

“We see that more than half of reported rape cases involved minors. We need to apply the heaviest punishment in order to effectively deter rapists,” said Daw Khin Saw Wai. “The death penalty is being adopted in some countries to protect citizens,” she added. “Burma is not a country which has abolished the death penalty, and also there are some laws that say to apply death sentences.”