235 plus complaints of domestic violence reported to multiple agencies during 2nd lockdown

Since the second national lockdown, 235 complaints related to Gender Based Violence (GBV) were received from across the country through Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), Respect Educate Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) and National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) as of 7th January 2021.

In some of the cases the same person may have called up multiple agencies inflating the figures a bit.

Few of the women, children and men have been placed in shelters in various Dzongkhags established upon the Royal Command of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.

Of the received cases, majority of them have been resolved with the help of RBP, Dzongkhag personnel and local government while some were forwarded to RENEW for further support and counseling beyond lockdown. 

Meanwhile, RBP has received 56 GBV cases since the second lockdown whereby Thimphu reported the highest with 11 cases. Of the 56 cases, 47 cases are related to intimate partner violence of whom 4 are male victims, 2 are child sexual abuse cases, 6 related to family violence and 1 case of violence within neighbors.

Of the 2 cases related to child sexual abuse, one was sexually abused by her step-father while the other by her neighbor. 

Lieut. Colonel Karma Rigzin, Additional Superintendent of Police, Women and Child Protection Division said that home is supposed to be the safest place; however, in reality with all this cases being reported where GBV is prevalent, they are trapped with their abusive partner whereby it is not safe.

She said she is worried about women and children with disability. “The offenders may target them due to their limited physical mobility or means of communication. They need to promote awareness among the community and increase their efforts to create deep and long-term change for women and girls that have been left behind,” she added.

“The number does not ascertain the situation because most victims of violence these days do not report or share with anybody as they feel that they would be stigmatized. They have a fear that the opposite partner would harm them if they report the violence to police or any other agencies,” she added.

RBP established the Woman and Child Protection Units and Desks around the country to provide a more conducive environment to women and children.

Some cases are withdrawn; however, they make sure to follow-up to ensure the victim and everyone in the family is okay. 

She said, “We have facilitated referral to few victims to shelter within the country initiated by Her Majesty The Gyeltsuen. The shelters have been very helpful to the police as it becomes difficult for us to find accommodation for the victims. The issue has been solved with the initiative and we are very grateful to Their Majesties for their immense support.”

The suspects are being detained depending upon the cases; however, they are being tested for COVID-19 before being detained. The health team has been supportive in providing testing for those who have to be detained and the front-liners are mindful with the COVID-19 protocol, she said.

An official from NCWC shared that they have received 73 GBV cases during second lockdown so far with 37 cases from Thimphu followed by 9 cases from Punakha. During first lockdown they had 70 calls on issues pertaining to GVB.

He said, “Protection services for the GBV is not taken as an integral part of the COVID-19 mitigation and response framework and thereby not identified as essential services.”

NWCW has felt that this has imposed huge challenges such as lack of expertise in provision of services during emergencies, lack of collaboration among the stakeholder in responding and meeting the immediate need of the survivors, he added.

It was learnt that, there is lack of awareness among the people regarding the reporting mechanism and feasibility of the remote case management while meeting the immediate need of the survivors.

Therefore, “GBV response and protection services needs to be a part of the national disaster and emergency framework to ensure that services to these groups are not excluded,” he added.

As per the data from RENEW, they have received 106 GBV related cases since the lockdown, of which Trashigang recorded the highest with 13 cases. In addition, another 13 cases were reported to RENEW through their helpline number. Gasa, Tsirang and Zhemgang have zero cases.

As per their data 16 children, 16 males and 77 females have fallen victim to GBV related cases.

Dr. Meenakshi Rai from RENEW said that they have received GBV related cases from 11 Dzongkhags since the second lockdown of which few cases were forwarded to RBP for investigation.

She said, “During lockdown they face numerous challenges while addressing GBV cases. We cannot conduct face to face counseling whereby the perpetrator will not want to talk to us on the telephone. And ensuring safety to the vulnerable victim remains questionable because we never know what is happening with them at home and with travel restrictions we cannot go and meet them in person.”

The other challenges she mentioned were on reaching out to those victims who do not have an access to telephone and transportation which also makes it difficult for the victims to contact them for  immediate help.

However, she said, “We are trying to manage and make the services available to those who need our help. Ensuring their safety is our aim and for that matter we urge people to report any kind of GBV cases to us or to other relevant agencies. That is only the way we can come up during lockdown.”

She said that children fall victim when both husband and wife have a conflict under the influence of alcohol. They have received enquiry calls on mental problems and issues on reproductive health.

Of the total cases received by NCWC and RENEW, few cases were forwarded to RBP for investigation.

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