Myanmar’s government is drafting a law that could see men jailed for up to seven years for getting a woman pregnant but not marrying her, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The provision is part of tough new legislation designed to strengthen women’s rights as the country opens up after half a century of military rule.
Director of the social welfare department Naw Tha Wah said the new law would criminalise domestic violence for the first time and make gang-rape a capital offence.
If passed in parliament, the law would also carry a penalty of up to five years in prison for any man who refuses to marry a woman after they have lived together, and up to seven if she is pregnant.
“We are now drafting a bill to protect women and prevent violence against them,” Naw Tha Wah told AFP.
“Women can complain if they are bullied into not getting married after living together. We will give them protection under the law.”
Buddhist-majority Myanmar is a socially conservative country, where gender stereotypes are deeply entrenched and sex remains a taboo topic.
The Burmese language has no word for female genitalia and any garments worn on a woman’s lower half are considered unclean, meaning they must be washed separately from men’s clothes.
While attitudes have started to change since the isolationist junta stepped down in 2011, activists say women are still treated like second-class citizens.
There are currently no laws to prevent domestic violence against women or combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
The penal code includes some provisions against rape, although that does not cover husbands who abuse their wives unless they are under the age of 13.
Last year parliament passed controversial laws backed by hardline Buddhist nationalists, restricting marriage between Buddhist women and men of other faiths.
Naw Tha Wah said the bill is currently in its final draft, but needs cabinet and parliamentary approval to become law.