An increase in the number of sexual abuse cases involving children is cause for concern, say politicians, amid a push to raise penalties for offenders
Speaking in the Pyithu Hluttaw yesterday, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Major General Aung Soe said the number of child rapes being reported is on the rise.
“Each year, rape cases have increased and the percentage of child rapes has also increased. It is very worrisome,” he said.
According to police figures, some 61 percent of rape cases in Myanmar this year involved minors. In 2013, child rapes constituted 42.9pc of all reported rapes. Through the first 10 months of this year, there were 380 cases reported nationwide involving child victims.
“Very young infants have been found to be rape victims, according to statistics,” said Maj Gen Aung Soe.
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Myanmar Police Force are reportedly cooperating to explore the factors that lead to child rapes, and are working on education and awareness programs.
The ministry and police have also helped victims file reports, as well as negotiated with courts and legal practitioners to ensure stricter penalties are meted out to those who committed child rapes, said the deputy minister.
“In accordance with existing rules and regulations, we have also taken action against our members who were found [to be] weak in investigating or arresting offenders,” said Maj Gen Aung Soe.
He said crunching numbers from the cases that entered the system had yielded some useful statistical information. According to the research, some 57.3pc of reported child rapes occurred during the daytime. Around 43pc took place in urban settings, while more than 56pc were reported in rural villages.
“We have continuously worked on reviews of age, time and causes of child rapes,” he said.
Rights activists fear the numbers revealed in state media recently could be just the tip of the iceberg, as a culture of silence and victim-blaming means abuse often goes unreported.
“Most of the time it is carried out by family members, neighbours, relatives or someone close to the victims’ families,” Police Major Khin Maung Thin from Mandalay, where cases have doubled this year, told AFP.
“Brothers abuse sisters and fathers abuse daughters,” he said.
The Myanmar representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bertrand Bainvel, said sexual violence is the second-most widespread form of child abuse in the country.
“Sometimes families are reluctant to report [cases] because of the taboo surrounding the issue,” he told AFP. “They think they are protecting victims by not reporting.”
Maj Gen Aung Soe said government figures indicated that there was a rise in the number of under-16s being found to have committed rape. Typically, he said, sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by those between the ages of 18 and 50.
One strategy being pursued in efforts to curb incidences of rape is to see that more perpetrators are sentenced to the penal code’s maximum prison term for the crime, 20 years.
“I found some cases are being sentenced to 20 years [in prison]. It happens more and more lately. In the past, the punishments were not severe,” said MP Daw Khin San Hlaing (NLD; Pale).
“[A vast] number of children can be saved by giving effective punishments to the criminal,” added the lawmaker. “If children are the future of our nation, child rape is like committing rape to the future of our nation.”
Translation by Zaw Nyunt,Win Thaw Thar, Zar Zar Soe, Khine Thazine Han and San Layy
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