Myanmar’s children are at risk. Child rape cases have soared. The government’s punitive approach will not bring numbers down.
The Burmese authorities must do more to protect the nation’s children. That is the message from NGOs working in the country.
Myanmar has seen a dramatic increase in the number of child rape cases in recent years. Despite this, the government has failed to impose preventative measures. A culture of blame leaves victims isolated. A punitive approach to dealing with the problem is having limited success. Myanmar needs a more comprehensive approach to prevention. Without it, more of the country’s children will have their youth snatched away at the hands of their abusers.
*January to October
Sources: UCA, Frontier Myanmar
A culture of victim blaming means many cases go unreported
A high-profile case in 2015 highlighted the culture of victim-blaming in Myanmar. A monk at Mandalay monastery raped a four-year-old girl. The girl’s parents reported the case to the police, and the monk was arrested.
Then the community turned on the victim and her family. Local people accused the girl’s parents of lying. The family’s landlord evicted them from their home. Parents in the community told their children not to play with the victim.
An attitude of hostility prevents more victims from coming forward. The actual figures of child rapes are undoubtedly far higher than those reported.
In 2017 the government introduced landmark legislation
The government introduced landmark legislation. The Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Bill passed in 2017. The bill introduced life sentences for the rape of girls under 18.
The bill made punishments harsher than before. But it will have little effect on child rape numbers. Harsh punishments are not an effective deterrent for child abusers. Perpetrators of sexual abuse do not consider the punishment before committing the crime. They act on urges and opportunity.
This has not stopped some people calling for the introduction of the death penalty. Its introduction as a punishment for child rape would do more harm than good. Many of the perpetrators are known to the victims. Most are family members or neighbours. Young victims often develop an affinity for the abuser. The execution of their abuser could cause further mental trauma to the child.
Reducing the number of child rapes cannot be achieved through punitive measures
Bringing the number of child rape cases down will require preventative measures. Better sex education in schools is essential. Sex is still treated as a taboo subject in Myanmar. Sex education in schools is minimal. This makes it easier for predators to prey on their victims. Many victims lack the sexual awareness to realise they are even being abused.
The government promised to open day-care centres across the country last year. This could help reduce the prevalence of child sexual abuse. Access to affordable childcare will reduce mothers’ reliance on family and friends. Day-care centres would create safe spaces for children. It would reduce predators’ access to children and reduce rape cases. However, the government is yet to fulfil its promise.
The Burmese government has a lot of work to do. It has to re-evaluate its approach to child sexual abuse and rape. To stop the steady rise of cases, it needs to formulate an effective prevention strategy. A strategy founded on education would raise awareness. It would end the culture of victim blaming and bring case numbers down.
Prevention is always better than a cure. Especially when dealing with something as destructive as child rape.