Episode 7: Fighting child abuse

The disturbing subject of child sexual abuse is very much underreported in Myanmar. This week we lift the lid on the horrors of child abuse, and what measures are being taken to help survivors.

Win Zar Ni Aung: Welcome to Doh Athan, a new weekly podcast from Frontier Myanmar, I am Zar Ni.

Our pioneering audio programme, the first of its kind in Myanmar, helps shine a spotlight on the many human rights issues that affect people across this beautiful country.  

This week we lift the lid on the horrors of child abuse and what measures are being done to help victims in Myanmar.

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The sexual abuse of children is a major problem and sometimes under reported in Myanmar.

Cases that are publicised are helping to break the silence about an evil that society appears to not want to acknowledge.

The sexual abuse of children is occurs across the country and involves boys as well as girls. It is common for the sexual predators of children to be relatives or close family friends who are trusted by the victims’ parents.

One such victim was Mya Mya.

Khin Htwe Kyi: Her grandfather raped her and she got pregnant when she was only 13 years old. Her father has died and her mother is suffering from cancer. Now, we care for her children at the Child Rehabilitation Center. As she wants to continue her education, we sent back her school to fulfill her ambition to become a doctor.

Win Zar Ni Aung: This was the voice of Daw Khin Htwe Kyi , the headmistress of a girls training school which cares for orphans in Yangon.

Well-known Myanmar actress Khine Hnin Wai set up a foundation this year to help children who have been abused.

She told Doh Athan that in the last week there had been eight new cases of children who had suffered sexual abuse arriving at her foundation.  

Khine Hnin Wai: There are many cases come and ask for help to our foundation , currently we have received eight cases. Some are too ashamed to inform anyone. Some of the victims can’t complain because they feel threatened and ashamed.

Win Zar Ni Aung:The foundation is currently helping a five-year-old girl who was raped last year in Twante Township near Yangon.

The girl, who we have chosen not to name, was attacked at a neighbour’s home while her parents were at work. The rapist, Maung Zaw Min, was jailed for 27 years.

Khine Hnin Wai: She has received mental treatment from Mental Hospital. She is scared  and panics when she sees boys. She shouted sometimes while she slept. She even bit her mother.

Win Zar Ni Aung: In Myanmar society, many parents seem unaware of the need to ensure their children are not exposed to the risk of sexual abuse, including by those who are trusted to provide care, such as relatives and friends. Parents worry that teenage children may be at risk of being sexually abused but seem to have never given thought to the possibility that their four- or five-year-olds may also be targeted.

Many parents also seem to be unaware that children can be curious about their sexuality, especially during adolescence. But as sex is a taboo subject in most homes, parents are unlikely to give their teenage children the information and support they need to understand their sexual development.

The definition of sexual abuse is broad and can include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual intercourse, indecent exposure of genitals or a woman’s breasts, grooming a child for abuse or using children to produce pornography.

Apart from physical injury, and the possibility of unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, children who have been sexually abused are likely to suffer depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and a propensity to become perpetrators in adulthood.

Daw War War Li Htun, chairperson of the Friendly Child Organisation, a child advocacy group, explains how her group tries to educate families about sexual abuse.

War War Li Htun: We focus on educating the family and environment because it can change a victim’s life. But we aren’t able to spread this to the whole country.

Win Zar Ni Aung: A UNICEF study this year showed that worldwide  around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lifetime.

Another UNICEF study in 2014, Hidden in Plain Sight, estimates that around 120 million girls under the age of 20, or about one in 10 girls worldwide, have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report experiences of sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent than girls.

In Myanmar crime figures for the whole country from 2014 to 2016 recorded 1,084 cases of child rape, mostly from Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway regions.

Myanmar also lacks a law that specifically addresses sexual violence against children, though the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is revising the 1993 Child Law, which deals broadly with the care, education and protection of children, with the help of UNICEF. Clauses in the Child Law lack clear definitions of what constitutes the sexual abuse of children, and make no reference to incest.

Section 376 of the Penal Code provides for anyone convicted of raping a child aged under 16 to be liable to a prison term of between seven and 10 years.

In May this year a judge sentenced child rapist to 20 years in prison after the case was discussed in parliament by MPs.

The Child Law also contains no sections dealing specifically with rape and sexual abuse. It provides for anyone convicted of willfully mistreating a child to be liable to a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a K10,000 fine.

Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children are required under Article 19 to protect children “from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse while in the care of parent(s), legal, guardian(s), or any other person who has the care of the child”.

U Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, said there should be specific laws for rape cases.

Aung Myo Min: We need specific law apart from the Penal Code. There is little knowledge about child rape in our environment and we need to both sentence the predators and also protect survivors and their families. We need secure places for victims, especially child courts, and rehabilitation for the victims. But I welcome the new Child Law that will be discussed in parliament.

Win Zar Ni Aung: Some child abuse cases, founder because they can’t be presented to court for various reasons.

U Thein Nyunt, a lawyer who headed the New National Democracy Party, had proposed the introduction of the death penalty for those convicted of raping children aged under 10 and a life prison term for those convicted of raping a child aged under 16. But he failed to secure the support of parliament.

Thein Nyunt: We need a long term and shot term plan for child rape. Every victims has physically and mentally suffered. There needs to be an empathetic rehabilitation program to give victims a childhood and an ordinary life.

Win Zar Ni Aung: Now we will round up some of the human rights stories around Myanmar.

Pope Francis will address thousands of people in Yangon today as part of his politically sensitive visit to Myanmar.

The decision to make the first papal visit to Myanmar was made after the Pope Francis met Aung San Suu Kyi at the Vatican in May to mark the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Vatican officials said the six-day trip aimed to send a message of “reconciliation, forgiveness and peace”.

However, the visit has coincided with Myanmar’s military crackdown on Muslim Rohingya, which began in late-August and has sent more than 620,000 people fleeing into Bangladesh.

The UN and the US have described the operation, ostensibly targeting Rohingya militants, as “ethnic cleansing”, and human rights groups say crimes against humanity may have been committed.

Officials in Myanmar and abroad have warned the Pope to choose his words carefully.

Pope Francis was due to meet both Aung San Suu Kyi and Htin Kyaw, Myanmar’s president, in Naypyidaw on Tuesday.

On Thursday morning, he is due to meet Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief and the man human rights groups are holding accountable for alleged mass rapes and shootings of Rohingya civilians during the military operation.

He will then depart for two days in Bangladesh, where he is expected to meet Rohingya families who escaped the violence. 

His visit comes just days after Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.

“We are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends the forms back to us,” said Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Burma’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population.

There are no details on how many refugees would be allowed to return. Bangladesh said the repatriations are to begin within two months.

Aung San Suu Kyi has previously promised repatriation would be “safe and voluntary”.

A Malaysian palm oil plantation joint venture in Tanintharyi Region has caused “severe social and environmental impacts” to the local community in the area, according to a human rights group.

The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission said an inspection revealed that activities by Myanmar Stark Prestige Plantation Company have caused severe negative social and environmental impacts to around 4,480 indigenous Karen people in the area.

It is noted that since the MSSP began operation in 2011, the company has cleared more than 6,000 acres of land, including the betel nut and cashew orchards, which villagers depended for their livelihoods.

 “Families who have lost their agriculture land have fallen into high levels of debt or been forced to work as day labourers for low wages (in the plantation),” said U Yu Lwin Aung, an MNHRC spokesperson.

The MSPP is a joint venture between Malaysia-based Prestige Platform and Myanmar-based Stark Industries.

In 2011, MSPP was granted a permit by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) to establish a 38,000-acre, $36.75 million oil palm project in Tanintharyi.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of Doh Athan.  

The programme was put together this week by Zar Ni and AHtet. 

You can read the news and other interesting articles via Frontier Myanmar’s website and Facebook pages and you can share your thoughts on these pages freely. 

Please stay tuned for next Wednesdays’ episode and visit the Doh Athan Facebook page.

The project to support human rights reporting is a partnership between Frontier Myanmar and Fondation Hirondelle, funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Myanmar. 

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