YANGON—The Upper House of Parliament on Friday approved a bill amending the Penal Code to provide for 20-year and life imprisonment sentences in cases of rape in which the victim is less than 12 years of age.
The bill submitted to Parliament in August adds a specific provision for child rape under Article 376 of the Penal Code. Under the existing law, rape is punishable by 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment but there is no separate punishment for raping a child.
Under the draft provision, the punishment for raping a child under the age of 12 is “20 years’ imprisonment or imprisonment for life.”
Lawmaker and Upper House bill committee member U Aung Thein, who submitted the bill to Parliament on Aug. 10, told lawmakers that the separate punishment was needed to effectively deter those who would rape children.
Women’s rights activists and members of the public have long called for harsher penalties for child rapists. However, some believe that less than 12 years of age is too young to define child rape, pointing out that it effectively lets rapists of older children off the hook, and that it contradicts other laws.
Ma May Sabe Phyu of the Gender Equality Network (GEN) said Parliament ignored all of the group’s suggestions regarding the amendments. GEN sent suggestions regarding the amendments to the relevant parliamentary commissions in September, along with an offer to discuss them.
Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, a women’s rights activist and Upper House lawmaker, is among those who disagree with setting the age at under 12 years. Her proposal objecting to the provision was defeated on Friday.
Under the current 1993 Child Law, a child is defined as a person under the age of 16. This means that any rape victim below that age is legally a child. Last month, however, a proposed revision to the law was drawn up by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and submitted to Parliament. It calls for childhood status to be extended up until 18 years of age in order to adhere with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Myanmar signed in 1991.
The revised Child Law was approved by the Lower House and has been sent to the Upper House for debate.
Ma May Sabe Phyu said the age should be set at under 18 years to be consistent with the revised Child Law and CRC, as well as to more effectively protect all girls.
“How can we have children defined differently in separate laws? It should be consistent,” Ma May Sabe Phyu said.
The bill will be submitted to the Lower House for further discussion.