Black-magic practitioner Tun Naing was found guilty of beating to death a two-year-old girl, a three-year-old boy and an eight-month-old baby girl in October 2016 in a village near Yangon.
Witnesses said he told the community that the children were possessed by evil spirits before attacking them as their families watched. Villagers, including the children’s families, reportedly lost their senses after he fed them “blessed” water and made them stand in a circle as he read out incantations.
Police officer Myat Soe said Tun Naing was also given a seven-year sentence for inflicting grievous bodily harm of another child during the rite.
Myanmar has not formally executed anyone since 1988, so the death sentence could be commuted to 20 years in jail.
“He was sentenced to death today by the district court, along with a seven-year sentence,” Myat Soe told the media.
A belief in magic and possession is common in Myanmar.
Hospital staff alerted the authorities after the father of another young girl who had been beaten brought her for medical treatment.
In November, Tun Naing told the media that he had been possessed by a “dark spirit” when he attacked the children.
Up to 150 children die every day in Myanmar before they reach their fifth birthday, the UN children’s organisation, Unicef, said.
Children affected by widespread fighting and poverty were not reaping the benefits of political reforms, Unicef reported.
“This alert is an opportunity to make more visible the situation of children who are not benefiting fully from the ongoing reforms in the country,” said Bertrand Bainvel, the agency’s representative in Myanmar.
Many citizens in Buddhist-majority Myanmar believe in spirits, astrology and “yadaya”, a magic used to ward off evil or misfortune.
Long-time military ruler Ne Win was famously superstitious and caused an economic and monetary crisis in the late 1980s when he changed all the denominations of the currency so they were divisible by his lucky number, nine.
Many people still consult fortune tellers and mystics for guidance.
Child poverty remains one of Myanmar’s key challenges. Picture credit: Asean Economist