Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is under 14 years of age. The government did not release statistics concerning the number of rape prosecutions and convictions. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports that police investigations were not sensitive to victims. One prominent women’s group reported that police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape and that women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator, especially in Karen and Mon States.
Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain statistics. According to media reports, there were 700 cases of rape reported annually; however, statistics to verify this estimate were not available. There are laws that prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse, including spousal rape of women above 13 years of age. Punishment for violating the law includes prison terms ranging from one year to life, in addition to possible fines.
There were reports of rape by military and security officials in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. The military rejected all allegations that rape was an institutionalized practice in the military but admitted in 2014 that its soldiers had committed 40 known rapes of civilian women since 2011. While there was no reliable estimate for rape cases nationwide, civil society groups observed an increase in the number of cases reported during the year.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no reports of FGM/C practiced in the country.
Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes fines or up to one year’s imprisonment for verbal harassment and up to two years’ imprisonment for physical contact. Civil society organizations reported that efforts to address sexual harassment revealed that most men and women were unaware of laws that prohibit sexual harassment, nor could they provide examples of enforcement. Additionally, there was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported that police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. In May 2015 the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if put into effect, could undermine protections for reproductive and women’s rights, including imposing birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government had not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment. In September a lower-house lawmaker requested that the government implement the Population Control and Health Care Law to restrict the birth rates for Muslim communities in two northern Rakhine State townships (Maungdaw and Buthidaung). The Union health minister rejected the request.
A two-child local order issued by the state government of Rakhine pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not enforced (see section 1.f.). The government was expanding the availability of different types of contraceptives in both government and private-sector clinics. Nonetheless, only 50 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 were using a modern method of contraceptives, and 16 percent of women had an unmet need for family planning, according to current UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates. Access to family planning was limited in rural areas, and local organizations noted that the unmet need for family planning was particularly high in Rakhine. A lack of commodities and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also affected access to family planning.
According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality ratio nationwide was 178 deaths per 100,000 live births. There were 1,700 maternal deaths in 2015, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 260. According to the 2014 national census, the maternal mortality rate in Rakhine State was 314 deaths per 100,000 live births, the fifth highest among states/regions. NGOs reported that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among the Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to higher maternal mortality rates in Rakhine, compared with the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortion were also a leading cause of maternal deaths. The law prohibits abortion except to save a woman’s life. Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; a high number of home births; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants, midwives, auxiliary midwives, basic health staff, and other trained community health workers. UNFPA estimated that skilled health personnel attended only 71 percent of births.
Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear if the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear if the formal sector respected this requirement. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male occupations (mining, forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and remained effectively barred from certain professions. Poverty affected women disproportionately. Within the antidiscrimination provision in the constitution regarding appointing civil service personnel, the law qualifies its nondiscrimination based on sex by stating that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what “suitable for men only” constitutes. The military continued to accept women into its Defense Services Academy.
Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.
Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any form of citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races” according to the Citizenship Law. Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group and consider them stateless. While some of the Rohingya participating in the citizenship verification process (see section 2.d.) may obtain a form of naturalized citizenship, the government did not make explicit which citizenship rights Rohingya would have through the program. It remained unclear if a member of an unrecognized ethnic group granted a form of citizenship through the program would be able to transmit a form of citizenship to their children.
A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (for example, Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent.
A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). While the practice of “blacklisting” some Rohingya children ceased following the dissolution of the NaSaKa border guard force in 2013(an inter-agency force established in 1992 and comprised of approximately 1,200 immigration, police, intelligence and customs officials that operated near the Bangladesh border), human rights organizations reported that early in the year, an additional 15 children were blacklisted in Rathedaung, meaning the children were not included in the household and family registration list (see section 2.d.).
Education: By law education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (approximately age 10). The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees. Many child rights activists in Rangoon noted that such fees were decreasing and were less often mandatory. There was little reported difference between girls and boys in attendance rates.
Local and international observers considered the 2015 National Education Law an improvement over past legislation, but local and international civil society continued to point out that it does not legalize student unions and lacks mandated national funding for the education sector.
Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.
Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment being widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 10,000 kyats ($7.50). There was anecdotal evidence from the field of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The Ministry of Social Welfare, with the support of UNICEF and international NGOs, expanded its social work case management child protection pilot programs in 10 new townships, bringing the total to 27, to provide more caseworkers and support services for child victims of sexual and physical violence. Since the work started, the Department of Social Welfare received more than 1,200 cases of violence, abuse, and neglect of children and responded with social work visits and services. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, which in turn exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar effect on children in those areas.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates the minimum age requirement for marriage is 15 years old, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, 13.2 percent of females reported to have been married between the ages of 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. A review conducted by a UN organization in February found that child marriage remained an important and underaddressed problem in rural areas. The census data showed that Shan, Kayah, and Chin States had the highest rates of child marriage in the country.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Information is provided in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no verifiable data on the commercial sexual exploitation of children, either inside or outside the country. Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child sex tourism, but the 1949 Suppression of Prostitution Act and the Prostitution Act prohibit pimping and prostitution, respectively, and the penal code prohibits having sex with a minor under the age of 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child under age 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The Child Law prohibits pornography, the penalty for which is two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($7.50). The law prohibits statutory rape; if a victim is under 14 years of age, the law considers the sexual act rape with or without consent. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between ages 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is under 12.
Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d., Internally Displaced Persons).
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The government passed a disability law in June 2015 to prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but it directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government was still in the process of drafting implementation guidelines for the disability law and did not effectively enforce these provisions.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for medical rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement is responsible for vocational training, education, and social protection strategies. During the year the government recognized the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities (formerly known as the Myanmar Council of Persons with Disabilities) to serve as an umbrella group for disabled persons organizations. The National Committee on Disability is the ministerial committee charged with promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. It did not convene during the year.
According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country, with the Ministry of Home Affairs, in collaboration with ICRC, opening a new center in October in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.
Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for up to one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.
Ethnic minorities constitute an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the population, and the seven ethnic-minority states make up approximately 60 percent of the national territory. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted that large wage variations based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.
While ethnic-minority groups generally used their own languages at home, Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. A February report from the Asia Foundation noted that schools run by ethnic armed groups often operated in the local ethnic language but that even students in well-established local language curricula, such as one operated by the Karen National Union, had limited future options without gaining academic credentials through the national curriculum. In schools controlled by ethnic armed groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.
Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with ceasefire agreements, remained high, and the army stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).
Muslims, including the Rohingya in Rakhine State, faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and their religion. Interethnic conflict in Rakhine State negatively affected the broader Muslim community, including the primarily Muslim ethnic Kaman. Most Rohingya faced severe restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). The Rohingya population constituted the majority of those displaced by outbreaks of violence across Rakhine State in 2012. Most remained in semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Several prominent groups led the charge in promoting support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Political reforms made it easier for the LGBTI community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Despite this progress, consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains provisions against “sexually abnormal” behavior and entails punishments up to life imprisonment. Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women. These laws were rarely enforced, but LGBTI persons reported that police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, the LGBTI community, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under paragraph (c) and (d) of the Yangon Police Act 30 (1899)/Police Act 35 (1945), otherwise known as the “shadow and disguise” laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” The LGBTI community also reported broad societal and familial discrimination. According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.
There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical care providers.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy. There were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.
There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. While laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services, advocacy created the most progress in changing attitudes of lawmakers and law enforcement officials. For example, parliament hosted the first-ever HIV/AIDS advocacy session with civil society organizations on World AIDS Day, December 1. Persons with HIV/AIDS could submit a complaint to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission if violations to their fundamental rights to life or privacy occurred. Nonetheless, the commission’s resources and power to resolve individual complaints was limited, and the commission drew significant public criticism for its handling of a child abuse case (see section 5).
Law enforcement practices contributed to high levels of stigma and discrimination against female sex workers that in turn hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were a few reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Bamar-Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of the Buddhist Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha), continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.
Other Muslim complaints included unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions to education opportunities. In some locations in Rakhine, for example, the local population expressed little distinction between the Kaman and the Rohingya, despite the fact that the Kaman are one of the country’s recognized 135 ethnic groups defined by the 1982 constitution. Muslim leaders in West Bago indicated a continuing source of frustration was that most Muslims’ ethnic designation on their identity cards is “Indian Bamar,” despite no affiliation with India.
In July large crowds destroyed two Muslim places of worship in Lone Khin Village, Kachin State, and Thaye Thamain Village, Waw Township, Bago Division. In both cases contacts alleged that MaBaTha monks led crowds in the attacks, provoked by allegations that the new construction in both cases was illegal. Police arrested a small number of individuals involved in the violence and then released them after five days. The government did not investigate either incident or file charges against any perpetrators by year’s end.
Multiple sources noted that restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.