55 minors raped in 2021

Many factors contributing to statutory and minor rape

Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) received 6 cases of statutory rape (below 12 years of age) until 17 November 2021 and 49 cases of rape of child above 12 years of age making it a total of 55 cases. There is an increase by 9 cases of rape of a child above 12 years of age from 2020, while the statutory rape remains the same.

The rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Paro in 2019, the rape of 5-year-old girl in Dagana in 2019, the rape of an 11-year-old girl in Samdrupjongkhar resulting in pregnancy and birth of a baby boy in 2020, and the rape of an 8-year-old boy in Tsirang this year are some of the statutory rape cases reported that shocked the nation. However, there are many more cases that go unreported due to circumstances.

An official from RBP said that compared to previous years, the cases of rape of a minor is on the rise. He said, “We cannot exactly say why the case is increasing. However, the situation is changing and so is the mindset of the people.”

RBP is conducting an analytical study to find out why sexual assault cases is happening in the country.

He further said, “I feel that we are lacking behind when it comes to coordination among the stakeholders. Each agency carries out a program but does not have a positive impact. However, we create awareness in schools and villages on criminal offences and sexual offence is no exception.”

Despite so many awareness programs, the desire and wants of the people do not change to some extent. In addition, he said that parenting plays an important role in addressing these cases and it is the parent’s duty to teach their children on what is good and what is not. 

Children staying with their relatives are more often the ones who fall victim to sexual offences. Relative tends to take advantage of the situation and these are where such offences take place usually, he said.

Director, Program and Service of Respect Educate Nurture Empower Women (RENEW) Dr Meenakshi Rai said that the parenting program is mostly taking place with the educated lot.

“Though we have volunteers in all the 20 dzongkhags, we are not able to cover all the rural areas. People in the rural areas have a mindset that it is safe for their children to play around or that it is safe to keep their children with neighbors and relatives,” she added.

Moreover, with time the exposure of usage of social media among the kids is shooting up, irrespective of place and time. In rural areas, what parents do not know is known well to kids due to the exposure to the Internet.

She said that though technology has lots of advantage, they are overdoing it and this could be one factor contributing to such incidences. Cases are now being reported, which is good and this could be because they now know how, when and where to report, she added.

Nevertheless, she said, “There is a lot more that can be done. The availability of services should be made easier and fast. The coordination and connection among the stakeholders should be tightened.”

There is much to be done on all levels, she said, adding that one’s identity and pride is more important than one’s life, and everyone wants to stay out of such issues.

“There are various laws and policies to protect children, but it is lacking when it comes to implementation. Leaders should be sensitized on gender sensitivity,” she added.

During lockdown time, there were cases of girls below the age of 15 years being raped, and teenage pregnancy and sexual harassment by their uncles, stepfathers and cousins. In some cases mothers, who were witnesses, could not speak out, as they are economically dependent on their husbands.

Schools can play important role to address such issues. In some cases, schools do not report the incident even when they know it is happening because they fear losing their school’s prestige and pride. 

Member of Parliament (MP) Tshewang Lham said that looking at the situation and the crime rate over time, the Parliament amended the rape clauses for three times after the implementation of Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) 2004.

She said, “The grading of statutory rape was second degree in PCB 2004. And with a rape of an 11 month old girl in 2011, the grading was then amended to first degree. After that, the law did not change for more than 8 years, and over the time, the rape of a minor was rampant and the Parliament, again, took the initiative to upgrade the grading of statutory rape to life imprisonment in 2019.”

 “We really do not know why a person has raped a child or woman. In a way, we must ask the perpetrator why they have raped. However, at the same time, I feel we should never question them why as it’s something shameful to even ask,” she added.

Though a person will have a reason behind murdering somebody, she said that no perpetrator will have a reason to rape anyone, a girl child in particular. It is a premeditated crime.

She further added that even if people are educated, some people would still commit the crime, irrespective of the situation. Meantime, she said, “Law enforcement agencies should put the rapist to task. So, hopefully let’s see if the sentencing might deter, or else we might really have to look into the law if that is an issue.”

An official from NCWC said that such cases are prominent, not only in rural areas but in urban areas, due to the lack of awareness among the people in the community, high level of acceptance and limited response services, especially in the rural areas.

“All the agencies and stakeholders need to be proactive to tackle such issues since child protection is a cross-cutting issue. The NCWC, as the nodal agency, has been developing and disseminating lots of mechanisms to prevent, mitigate and respond to such kinds of issues,” he said.

Child protection calls for multi-sectoral approaches, and every individual should have a hand in ensuring the protection of the children. Protection of children and ensuring a safe environment at family, household, community and national level should be everyone’s responsibility, he added.

He said, “During vacation, everyone should ensure the continued monitoring of the children by parents on the usage of social media, and well-being of the children. Dedicate enough quality time to children at home.”

A youth volunteer shared that sexual offences in the country, regardless of what people say about rules or code of conduct, must be addressed

“I am affirmative that the roles of parents, peers, communities and teachers, furthermore the individual to speak up and raise the issue is particularly imperative. It is rampant in recent times because I think people are misusing their power and authority,” he added.

He said, “If sex is viewed as a wholly innate acceptable emotion and open the topic to discuss then one day, we might be able to achieve safe and consensual sex. People are forgetting the value of the individual.”

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