Teenage girl in Mawlamyine Township overcomes every obstacle in search to hold her rapist to account

April 1, 2019

HURFOM: More than two years after she was first assaulted, a teenage girl from Zayar Thiri Region, Mawlamyine Township, Mon State is one step closer to justice as she awaits the sentencing of her uncle who has been detained by authorities since July 2018 on charges of rape. The girl’s husband, whom she was forced to marry in 2018, has also been detained on rape charges.

In 2017, following the death of her father and her mother’s second marriage, the girl and her younger brother were sent to live with their grandmother. It was in this residence that the girl was repeatedly raped by her uncle.

In 2017, my uncle entered my mosquito net and raped me. After that [first] incident, he would rape me whenever he got drunk,” said the girl.

The girl did not come forward because her uncle had threated to kill her and force her younger brother out of the house if she were to tell anyone about the ongoing abuse. As well, the girl’s grandmother is said to have resented her presence in the home, which further isolated the girl and left her with no one to confide in.

I can’t believe that my uncle, my mother’s younger brother, would abuse me like this. I thought my grandmother would support me, but she resents me. None of my relatives stood by me. Only my mother supported me. After I was raped, I wanted to tell my grandmother, but I rely on her and didn’t want to cause any problems. My mother only came back to Mawlamyine a year ago, so I had no one to turn to,” said the girl.

In February 2018, after completing her grade 10 examination, the girl learned that she was six-months pregnant. In an attempt to conceal the uncle’s crimes and deflect his responsibility for the pregnancy, the girl’s grandmother pressured the girl to pursue a romantic relationship with a 19-year-old boy from the Zayar Thiri Region, and quickly forced her granddaughter to marry the young man.

When there was a festival in our ward, [under pressure from my grandmother] I gave him some alcohol and flirted with him. The next day, my grandmother forced me to visit his home. She said that if I didn’t do what she said, she would remove my younger brother from school. Then, when I was with him at his house, my grandmother accused us of living together and forced him to marry me. Soon after our marriage, we would frequently fight because he knew that the he wasn’t the father of my child,” said the girl.

Having learned of the girl’s predicament, Daw Thi Thi Nwe, the Chair of Mitta Zone See Organization, took an active interest in the girl’s well-being.

I knew the girl because she usually came to our organization to sell goods. When I heard that she had given birth, I went to the hospital to see her. At the hospital, I saw that she was giving her baby to someone for adoption and requesting money from them. I told the people adopting the child that they should follow legal adoption procedures in coordination with the Department of Social Welfare, and they left,” said Daw Thi Thi New.

Having nowhere else to go upon her release from the hospital, the girl returned with her child to her grandmother’s house. On June 11th 2018, Daw Thi Thi Nwe visited the girl at her home to discover that the accommodations provided for the young mother and newborn child offered little protection from the rain. Concerned for their well-being, Daw Thi Thi Nwe relocated the girl and her child to a safer location.

The girl said she wanted her uncle to be punished for raping her. I explained to her that if we filed a charge against her uncle, her husband would also have to be punished,” said Daw Thi Thi Nwe.

At the request of the girl, Daw Thi Thi Nwe proceeded to file rape charges against the girl’s uncle and her husband. Both men have been detained by authorities in Mawlamyine since July 2018, though neither man has yet to be sentenced despite having stood trial.

At this time, it remains unclear why the girl’s husband has been charged with rape.

She passed the grade 10 exam, and next year she will take the matriculation exam. A terrible thing has happened to this girl, and it’s had a huge impact on her life. I will support her when she takes the matriculation exam next year,” said Daw Thi Thi Nwe.

In a show of resolute strength and resilience, the girl says that she looks forward to completing the matriculation exam and hopes to one day support her child to become a medical doctor.

Although the girl’s uncle and husband were eventually detained, this case nonetheless highlights the many obstacles that victims of sexual violence confront when seeking to hold their abusers to account. Death threats, fear of reprisal, forced marriage, and stigma nearly forced this young woman to remain silent about the abuse she had endured, but with the support of the Mitta Zone See Organization, the girl’s wish to have her uncle held accountable for his crimes will likely come to fruition.

For many young women in Mon State and throughout Burma, obstacles like these are overwhelming and often conspire to keep women from coming forward. Until parliament enacts the Protection and Prevention of Violence against Women Bill to provide women and girls with enhanced legal protection, the culture of silence that obscures the suffering of victims while safeguarding the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence will remain firmly entrenched.

 

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