Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on Monday rejected a call to talk about amending the 1993 Child Law to provide better protections for children from sexual abuse.
The majority of lawmakers voted against the proposal, despite members of Parliament arguing for harder punishments for child-rapists in Burma.
“I proposed [to discuss] how we can protect children and young girls effectively from a legal perspective,” said Thein Nyunt, a Lower House lawmaker from the New National Democracy Party.
There were over 130 reported rape cases from January to August in Rangoon Division alone, he said. Among them, 88 cases involved children under 16, according to Thein Nyunt.
Recently, the daughter of indebted family from Rangoon’s Shwepyithar Township was taken and photographed for pornography, he said, citing local media reports. Likewise, a 15-year-old girl in Tenasserim Division was raped and killed, he said.
“These crimes are threatening our society because there are weaknesses in the legal sector,” said Thein Nyunt. Under the current Child Law, the punishment for allowing a child to enter prostitution or producing child pornography is just two years imprisonment or a fine 10,000 kyat, or both.
In cases of children being raped by adults, the rapists receive seven to ten years imprisonment under section 376 of the Burma criminal code, not under the Child Law.
Burma ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. In 1993, Burma replaced the 1955 Children Act with the current law.
The Child Law does not include children who have been sexually abused or who are in danger of being sexually abused in its section that defines children “in need of protection and care.”
“The current law is 20 years old and we should amend it to be accordance with the present situation,” said Thein Nyunt.
“It is destroying the children’s future,” said the outspoken lawmaker, who raised the issue for the second time in two years of the Parliament on Monday.
Only 19 MPs (from the opposition National league for Democracy, National Democratic Force and Rakhine Nationalities Development Party) supported the proposal, while more than 330 remaining MPs voted against.
At the last parliamentary session, he tried to amend the law on child abuse under the criminal code but it was not also successful.
As restrictions on media have being relaxed since President Thein Sein’s government took power in 2011, cases of young girls being sexually abused have become more widely reported than ever before.
“We are hearing and seeing that young girls as young as 3-years-old are being raped. There is something very wrong with our society. Those rapists must be given the death sentence, in my opinion,” said Khin Saw Wai, an Arakanese lawmaker from the RNDP.
“I think those crimes will be reduced only if actions are taken effectively.”
She added that a representative of the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry, as well as the attorney general, argued that the current act was sufficient for child protection. But Khin Saw Wai said the law was not protecting children, in particular those in poor families.
“We found that the child abuse is related to poverty, because as we see, most of the victims are the children of the ordinary poor families,” she said. “There needs to be much more awareness of this, even under the current Child Law.”
Although sexual abuse of children is now widely reported, there are very few civil society groups or international NGOs working to help abused children.