RANGOON — The number of rapes reported to Burma’s police last year was the highest in five years, according to official figures highlighted by activists on Monday, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Hundreds of women gathered in the shadow of Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda on Sunday and Monday to for speeches and performances to mark the United Nations-designated international day.
Tha Zin Mar, from local NGO Charity-Oriented Myanmar, told the audience that police figures recorded a rise in rape in Burma last year, and that rape was now the second most commonly reported serious crime in the country, behind murder.
Some 654 rapes of women and children were reported in 2012, she said, a figure confirmed by an official at the police’s criminal investigations department in Naypyidaw. It is thought the figure represents only a fraction of the total number of rapes, which, in Burma as in most countries, are rarely reported to police.
“We may think that those victims are not our relatives or not from our blood, but we should not think like this because they are our sisters,” Tha Zin Mar said. “We have to think about how we can protect them to stop such crimes.”
The police official, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak with the media, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that rape, at 654, was the second most frequently reported serious crime. There were 1,323 murders in 2012, he said.
The official said the figure for last year was the highest in the past five years. Figures from before 2007 were not available.
In the four years from 2007, the number of rapes reported has fluctuated from 471 in 2007 to 430 in 2008, 384 in 2009, 377 in 2010 and 605 in 2011, he said. The official declined to give any more detailed statistics and it is unclear how many people are prosecuted for rape in Burma.
Little research has been published on rape in Burma. However, a report by the United Nations, published in September, interviewed 10,000 men across the Asia-Pacific region, not including in Burma, and found that rape of women was “pervasive.”
The study, covering Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka, found that 10 percent of men admitted to at least one rape of a woman who was not their partner. Almost a quarter admitted to raping a partner, the report said.
Tha Zin Mar said that research by her organization had found that during 2013 up to October, 85 percent of rape cases nationwide in Burma had been reported in Rangoon Division, the country’s most populous city and the commercial capital.
“Every women has her own rights,” she said, explaining that some women in Burma were not aware that being raped was a violation of their rights. “They need to come out to stand up for their rights. There are many organizations who work for women and we want them [victims] to know this.”
May Sabai Phyu of Gender Equality Network said Burma’s women are not protected by the law. “We do not have law, which could protect women and give them good security,” she said.
She said the arrest of rape suspects were often reported in the state-run newspapers, but she rarely saw the perpetrators convicted to jail terms.
“I have two daughters. I am always worried for them whenever they take a taxi or came back home late at night from their schools,” May Sabai Phyu said. “It is not only me who worries for my daughters, but all parents who have daughters in the country have the same worries as me.”