By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — The minister representing Yangon’s police force has told the regional assembly that at least four officers will face disciplinary action for failing to investigate the Ava tailoring shop abuse scandal earlier this year.
Colonel Tin Aung Tun, the Yangon Region Border Affairs and Security Minister, confirmed to lawmakers on Monday that the officers would face punishment under the Myanmar Police Force Law.
The minister said the government was investigating a Lieutenant-Colonel, believed to be stationed at Yangon’s Western District police headquarters, along with a superintendent, major and surveillance officer based at the Kyauktada Police Station.
The Myanmar Police Force Law gives senior officers broad administrative powers to investigate and discipline the police rank-and-file.
Under the law, the officers under investigation could face a range of punishments, from demotion and salary reduction to discharge and summary imprisonment.
Abuse scandal fallout continues
Last month, it was revealed that two young women, aged 17 and 16, had been subjected to years of torture and abuse while in the employ of Ava tailoring.
Ko Swe Win, head of the news agency Myanmar Now, reported the abuse allegations to the Kyauktada police station in July. Police closed the case after claiming to be unable to substantiate the accusations.
Swe Win subsequently referred the case to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, whose members have come under fire for brokering a financial settlement on behalf of the victims.
Six people have now been arrested as a result of the scandal. They face charges under the Anti-Trafficking Law in Kyauktada Township Court, and could be sentenced to prison terms of a decade or more.
In parliament, Daw Kyi Pya (NLD, Kyauktada-1), who represents the constituency where the abuse scandal occurred, and U Zaw Min Aung (NLD, Kawhmu-2), who represe had pressed Col. Tin Aung Tun on what action the police force was taking to prevent similar abuses in the region and to safeguard the welfare of the two teenaged victims.
“Our people in Myanmar have been suffered inhumane treatment for so long, they have been dehumanized,” Kyi Pya said. “People are now afraid of going to court and the police.”
She added that the Ava tailoring case was the tip of the iceberg, with many other trafficking and abuse cases unreported across the country.
Child soldiers in spotlight
Also during Monday’s proceedings, MP U Shwe Yin (NLD, Dala-1) asked Tin Aung Tun to provide an update on how many child soldiers remained in Myanmar’s military.
The minister responded that the military had taken steps to prevent the recruitment of underage soldiers and was taking action to discipline officers who attempted to enlist children under the age of 18.
“If they are taken, it is a mistake and before they are enlisted, we check them properly to make sure they are over 18,” he said.
In partnership with UNICEF, the military has discharged 800 underage soldiers from service since 2012.
However, London-based NGO Child Soldiers International wrote in March that underage recruitment was continuing in some parts of the country, with recruiting officers using falsified documentation to dodge screening protocols.
UNICEF has received 122 reports of child soldier enlistment across the country so far this year, though no cases have been confirmed so far.