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Myanmar: Minor’s rape shakes national consciousness

YANGON, Myanmar 

Protests continued in at least three major cities of Myanmar, demanding justice for a three-year old girl, sexually assaulted in a private nursery school in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on May 16.   

The incident has sparked a national outrage, with social media users launching an online campaign seeking justice for Victoria, pseudonym given to the victim.

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Police had arrested and charged a 29-year old driver Aung Gyi, working for the nursery on May 30.

The nursery school was also closed on the same day, as authorities found, it was operating without a license.

But protesters are unrelenting, punching holes in the police investigation.

“We don’t believe in police investigations. Driver Aung Gyi must be a scape-goat,” said Ye Thura, a resident of Yangon who took part in the march on July 6.

“I am not saying Aung Gyi is a good guy, but he had just a slim chance to do so,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Social media posts had alleged that two sons of a woman nursery supervisor had committed the crime. But police cleared both of them after conducting DNA tests.

According to media reports, police charged the driver, citing the CCTV footage, which showed him in the nursery school, for nearly 28 minutes on May 16. A foreign media outlet last week, citing the same CCTV footage reported that the suspect had no chance of committing the crime.

“The CCTV footage obtained by BBC shows clearly that he was sitting all the time there,” said Mya Yamin Tun, a mother of two children, who also joined the march in Yangon.

“Police are trying to hide the truth,” she told Anadolu Agency.

– Victim blaming culture

Talking about sex is still a taboo in the conservative Myanmar society, and most of the sexual abuse cases go unreported.

Rape cases have been on the rise over past many years. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 1101 rape cases were reported to police in 2016, 1405 cases in 2017, 1583 cases in 2018 and 619 cases so far in 2019.

People often blame pornographic pictures on social media platforms and women wearing skimpy cloths.

Naing Ngan Lin, Yangon’s regional minister of social affairs, said victims and family members are reluctant to report the sexual abuse cases, because of a culture of silence and victim blaming.

“The society must change mindset and not blame the victim,” he said.

“One main reason is lack of sex education,” the minister said, adding the government is trying to introduce sex education lesson in schools.

– Child rape case surge

The ministry statistics further pointed out a surge in child sex abuse cases.

The data showed 671 child molestation cases (60.94 % of rape cases) in 2016, 897 cases (63.84%) in 2017, 1,028 cases (64.93%) in 2018 and 419 cases (67.68%) in first half of 2019.

A senior police officer in Nay Pyi Taw said most of the child rape cases are committed either by a family member or someone who is familiar with the victim.

“People sometimes leave children with neighbors or friends, when they go to work. It gives bad guy a chance to commit crime,” said an officer.

“In most such cases, family members don’t report it to the police. That practice encourages rapists to repeat the crime,” the officer told Anadolu Agency on phone.

“It is shocking to see cases of even fathers raping their own daughters,” he said.

– Tougher penalty demanded

Myanmar parliament had amended country’s Penal Code, incorporating a specific provision, which carries 20 years of sentence or imprisonment for the rest of life, in child rape cases.

Activists are, however, demanding death penalty for child rapists.

“They are not humans. They are animals. So they deserve death penalty,” said Ye Thura.

Although he joined a call for the harsher punishment for child rapists, he doesn’t trust police and courts.

“If someone rapes my daughter, I would not go to police or court. I would instead find the culprit, and kill him with my own hands. That is the most possible way to bring justice,” he said.

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