The top three common crimes against women, according to police, are battery, sexual harassment, and assault. There is increasing concerns over especially increasing sexual crimes against women.
A total of 1,339 cases of different crimes against women were reported to police across the country including anything from battery to sexual assault.
Rape cases saw an increase over the past years, with 23 rape cases in 2008 which shot up to 51 cases in 2011.
There were 50 cases of rape registered by the police in 2012, 33 in 2009 while 2010 saw 21 cases.
Rape of minors increased in 2008 and three cases of rape of child above twelve years were reported with the police. This figure increased in 2009 to a total of 14 cases and in 2010 just till September, 9 cases were reported.
The rape cases are categorized as rape, rape of married women, statutory rape (under age rape), rape of child above twelve, and gang rape.
Serious offense such as battery cases against women were recorded highest in the year 2011 with 532 cases while 502 cases were reported last year. As of October this year, 251 battery cases have been reported.
The number of sexual harassment cases against women was 7 in 2011 which increased to 9 in 2012. As of today, 3 cases have been reported this year.
In a span of three years, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has registered four cases of child molestation.
Murder cases were also recorded with four women being murdered in 2011 and three last year. As of this year, two cases of murder have been reported.
Many women told The Bhutanese that they were victims of eve-teasing and verbal harassment.
The Superintendent of Women and Child Protection Division, Major Namgay Dorji said though there are records of eve- teasing, only a very few cases come to police.
Sonam Pelden, a private company employee, was once a victim of eve- teasing and said she felt it was waste of time to report the matter to police.
Major Namgay Dorji said there has been a decrease in the figures of crime against women, and attributed it to measure like advocacy and fear for laws.
An official from the Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) believes that Bhutan is still a safer place for women, in many ways, as compared to many other countries within the region.
“Crime against women has been there, but there was no data recorded in the past and of course women themselves were not aware of their rights and no services as such were available,” the official said.
The official also feels that with education and awareness, women are now coming forward.
“With the establishment have been providing psycho-social support to victims of domestic violence and gender based violence. We are creating awareness and lobbying with relevant agencies in formulating laws and polices related to the issues,” she added.
She further added, “RENEW has wide range of services for victims and survivors as per their needs. Counseling is the core service and with that -services such as emergency shelter, legal aid, medical aid, livelihood skills training and micro -finance is provided.”
Major Namgay Dorji said now with every police station being approachable and friendly, women are coming forward, which is why the figures of reported crimes compared to the past are increasing.
He said the police station’s women and child protection units (WCPU) desk was established in Wangduephodrang and Samdrup Jongkhar, especially set up to look into women-related issues. RBP has plans to open such desks across police stations in the 20 dzongkhag. WCPU desk for Trashigang and Gelephu is under way.
Major Karma Sonam from the Crime Prevention Division said, “If you keep yourself safe, Bhutan is a safe place for women.”
MP Ugyen Wangdi from Dramedtse-Ngatshang constituency of Mongar, also the chairman of the Legislative Committee of the first Parliament, in 2008-2013 said, “Except for rape against minor and domestic violence, the crime against women is not so serious in Bhutan. I feel Bhutan is safe place for women because only few serious cases of crime against women are reported.”
The MP further added that women should not stay silent but come forward and be open, and also report the matter to police of any crime against them.
Many women The Bhutanese spoke to said though many serious crimes do not happen against women, there are some cases which are as serious as rape and domestic violence like, verbal and sexual harassment.
Tashi Wangmo, a mother of two said, “I have a daughter who is studying in a high school and every time I have to keep a tab on her. I make a call after her school gets over because most of the time I get late working at office. This is the worry I have and this is obvious with increasing crimes going on here in Bhutan. So many rape cases are now reported by the media.”
A 28-year-old women working for a private company in Thimphu said she makes a point to reach home before dusk as she feels the city is not safe. “I don’t know what might happen at any moment, and I do not feel safe. Every now and then, I see rape or assault on women in the media and it has instilled a fear in me.”