Myanmar is a developing country and enjoying a higher economic growth among Southeast Asian countries. But there is a significant increase in rape cases with over 682 reported cases in 2015, 1,100 cases in 2016 and 1,405 cases in 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The brutal fact the statistics reveal is that each day every four girls are being raped and half of them are inflicted on young girls aged under 16.
Lately, with the surge in crime rate, perpetrators of most rape cases occurring in Myanmar are found to be biological fathers and brothers of victims and neighbours including people who know victims well in sexual harassment cases. According to media reports, children aged from 3 to 5 years old have become involved in rape victim domain which should be deemed red flag to act on sex exploitation quickly. In fact, there are many sexual violence cases remained pervasive and underreported. Women find it difficult to prove that there was no consent. Besides, the cost of prosecution is too high which often fails them to report the case. So the numbers publically available can only show the tip of an iceberg of the sexual violence problem.
“Most women opted to stay silent for fear of stigma and victim-blaming. Failing to legally punish the convict will just give them a chance to take advantage of more women. It is important to take legal action on the sexual violence,” a lawyer and activist Hla Hla Yee told Myanmar Insider. Some deep-rooted traditions and stereotypical society (both men and women) of Myanmar are causing women to avoid consideration of prosecution for sexual exploitation and rape. Unlike in developed countries, women experienced sexual assault here are disrespected and discriminated in the community instead of treating them as survivors and providing community support.
“Myanmar women are cultivated in an environment where gender differences are taken seriously and connected to religious belief as if they have the power to shape a successful and happy life. For example, a simple brainwash inherited in women for centuries is that sexual harassment will only occur because of her outfit, as a result, sexual abuses will end up at victim-blaming. It is unfair and unreasonable for women especially for victims that women are losing their right of exposing brutal sexual exploitation experiences to the public and carrying on legal action for fear of social stigma and fear of discrimination,” told Thu Thu Aung (Name Changed) to Myanmar Insider.
Closed-ended thoughts in people mind such as how a woman dress could be a prime factor of increasing sexual abuse and exploitation will only encourage more rapes because many parts of Myanmar society have wrong understanding about rape and rape victims creating a climate which downplays the severity of rapes.
An increase in the illicit trade of drugs, easier access to stimulants, heroin and narcotic drugs in the market which is one of main reasons to upsurge in rape crime figures questions us whether a transgression can be committed easier than yesterdays.
Furthermore, survivors of sexual violence are experiencing not only physical breakdown but also mental pain as a major consequence. They find it difficult to reconnect with the community leading them to relocate and opt for solitude and, in extreme cases, they become lack of confidence in communication with males. Moreover, offenders control the victims by threatening their lives and families or using a financial arrangement in exchange for not to report the case. Those people who coerce victims with money to perform sexual favours can be authoritative and powerful figures, who do not get any legal action.
Women are facing up to the disheartening fact that the victimization in sexual exploitations is shifting toward children aged under 16. According to Hla Hla Yee, children under 10 years old are being targeted for they are more vulnerable to sexual coercion and in-contact sexual abuse and unlikely to get pregnant. On one hand, abusers are taking advantage of the situations when a child is left alone at home, walking down the lanes alone, away from the close watch from parents and teachers and taken care by distant neighbours.
According to crime statistics, 61% of 1,100 rape cases reported in 2016 was committed by child molesters and 63% of 1,405 cases in 2017. There is no specific law against aggravated sexual abuse with children in Myanmar penal code. The Myanmar penal code section 376 penalizes rape criminals with a lifetime sentence, ten-year imprisonment and fines. Therefore, a Member of Parliament for YaThe Mountain region, Khin Saw Wai, submitted a law amendment proposal to Pyithu Hluttaw to effectively protect the children from terrifying crimes.
As the provision of the laws against rape is piecemeal, there were law amendments under previous governments. MPs revised the old law which seeks to imprison people who committed rape from 10 years to 20 years in 2018. The revised law mandates imprisonment of 20 years to a lifetime for child rapes. However, rapists who assaulted women aged above 16 are sentenced to maximum 20 years imprisonment. “I feel unjust with newly revised mandates because females aged above 16 are also women. The penalty should seek equality,” told 26-year old Ni Ni (Name Changed) to Myanmar Insider.
People argue and question about the penalties on rapes in that all criminals, who commit a child rape or not should be given the death penalty. However, some experts argue that rapists could kill the victim in order to destroy evidence if there were death penalty for rape. Still, there are limited government efforts to enforce laws and gaps.
Therefore, some of calling for secondary schools to develop a learning environment where sex education is prescribed as compulsory and parents should feel responsible for creating constructive and open-ended discussions with their own children about intimate contact and sex education. Education may have a civilizational effect by improving moral stance.
“A widespread sex education is important. Education should get started with parents. Parents should teach their children about sexual harassment and how to prevent them, and how to escape from it. Also, schools should educate children widely about sex so that children can avoid sexual exploitation,” Hla Hla Yee added.
A significant increase in mobile usage in recent years brings both benefits and impacts. As phone sim cards became affordable, the majority of people in Myanmar have owned at least one number and a shiny phone since 2010. People can communicate easily, can learn things on the internet and can access updated news on time as well as can seek entertainment on their phones. In contrast to the best use of the mobiles, pornography platforms are being searched and accessed through the internet easier than before. Such easiness may have made men sexually aroused and have vulnerable women as victims for denoting sexual pleasure.
A man who wanted his name unreported said, “sex workers should be granted licenses so that men can engage in lawful sexual pleasure activities which are stimulated by age-restricted videos available on social media and this could lead to a reduction in rapes.”
Hla Hla Yee responded to above man’s statement, “rapes has little to do with officially licensed sex workers for the reasons that most offenders are poor both financially and intelligently. They can’t afford sex workers to fulfil their thirst for sexual pleasure.” She continued insisting on that licensed sex workers won’t reduce the rapes.
Unemployment and poverty may be related to rape cases. Most perpetrators of sexual harassment and rapists are found jobless and struggling with poverty. Moreover, weak legal action taken by government authorities may have exacerbated the crime rates. Major cities seeing high numbers of rapes are in Yangon, Ayeyarwaddy, Mandalay, Pegu and Sagaing regions. Yangon’s rape cases are 270, 298, 175 and 98 cases in 2017, 2018, 2019 and up to August 2020 respectively, according to the Ministry of Information.
Translated by Angela Lynn.