ULAANBAATAR, March 31 (Reuters) - Thousands of Mongolians protested in front of parliament in Ulaanbaatar on Saturday to demand more action to prevent child abuse, after the widely-reported rape of a male infant shocked the country.
After the reported rape earlier this month in Dornogobi province in Mongolia's southeast, a group of concerned mothers created a Facebook group announcing the Saturday protest last week, and it quickly reached more than 400,000 members.
"We want to show child abusers that we are strong in order to protect our children," said Davaa Baatar, 41, the father of three children who was attending the protest.
The protesters held placards with messages such as "Stop child abuse", "No child rape" and "Our children, our future".
The protest organisers are demanding stricter laws regarding child abuse, better government services for survivors and more public awareness.
"We will give our policy demands to the parliament, government and the president's office on Monday," said Odontuya Tsolmon, one of the protest organisers.
The government has promised a response.
"As soon as we get the proposed demands from organisers, the cabinet will be open to discuss it," a government spokesman told Reuters, adding that the prime minister's advisors were at the demonstration.
Some group members have advocated for the death penalty for sex offenders, though the protest organisers said they were opposed to capital punishment.
President Khaltmaa Battulga formed a commission to reinstate capital punishment for such crimes last year after similar widely-publicised incidents of child sexual assaults provoked a public outcry.
According to the state prosecutors office, there were 298 reported incidents of child rape in 2015 and 2016. Experts believe this is a small proportion of actual incidents of child sexual abuse due to a pervasive cultural stigma over the topic.
"The fear of being blamed and shamed means victims and their families keep quiet and don't report to the police," Ganbayasgakh Geleg, a founder of the Gender Equality Centre which fights human trafficking and sexual violence, told Reuters.
Mongolia, a thinly populated and mineral-rich country of just three million people sandwiched between Russia and China, transitioned to a parliamentary democracy in 1990 having previously been a satellite of the Soviet Union.
But there has been continued public frustration about the economy, corruption and air pollution, among other issues.
Last year, a slump in foreign investment and declining commodity prices forced Mongolia to agree to a $5.5 billion bailout led by the International Monetary Fund to relieve fiscal strains and try to restore investor confidence. (Reporting by Munkhchimeg Davaasharav and Peter Bittner; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Hogue)