Any man who cohabitates with or impregnates a woman after agreeing to marry her, but then fails to stand by the promise, could soon face prison terms if a draft law comes into effect.
The Prevention of Violence against Women Law includes a clause that allows women to file a lawsuit if a man refuses to marry her after living with her or impregnating her on the understanding that they will eventually wed. The draft law is aimed at filling a perceived legislative gap in protecting women’s rights, and includes tough punishments for offenses like domestic abuse and rape.
“If it is found that someone has intercourse with a woman by promising to marry her and then he fails or refuses to do so, he will be imprisoned between 3 to 5 years and will also be asked to pay a fine,” one of the legislation’s clauses stipulates. The draft adds that the terms of imprisonment increase from 5 to 7 years if the woman in question is pregnant.
“We have received many reports from women complaining that they were cheated after being convinced to live together with a man who promised marriage,” said Daw Naw Thawar, director of the department of social welfare.
She added that the draft was submitted to the Minister of Social Welfare and Resettlement on December 26. After further review, it will be submitted to the Union government and then to parliament for final approval.
Daw Hla Hla Yee, director and an advocate at the Legal Clinic Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times that there is no specific law in the penal code to protect women who are coerced through lies into having intercourse.
“In the existing legal codes, article 417 addresses cheating and can be used to take action for any type of defrauding, including involving money, or sex, among other things,” she said.
“But this clause in the [Prevention of Violence against Women Law] is more specific, and aims at the protection of women,” she added.
The Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement started drafting the new legislation in 2013 along with women’s organisations, civil society groups and the United Nations.
“The draft has already passed through the Union Attorney General’s Office and the advocate’s general office with that particular clause intact, which must mean there is nothing legally to object to about it,” said Upper House parliamentarian Daw Naw Hla Hla Soe (NLD; Yangon 10). She added that she believes the marriage deception clause is suitable since action will be taken only if a woman files a lawsuit.
Daw Frecia, a coordinator at the Women’s Organization Network, said she also supports the clause, though added that more importantly legislation protecting women from violence needs to be passed to replace or update the existing penal code sections.
“There are existing laws which are not very active, so we must focus on effective implementation because it does not matter what the new laws stipulate if they are not properly enforced,” she said.
The draft law seeks to criminalise domestic violence, economic violence, and psychological, sexual and physical abuse in line with international standards like the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which Myanmar signed in 1997.