The recent rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Paro and a string of rapes and sexual molestation of children has created a national outrage on the issue.
The outrage was so strong that many members of the public including two MPs from DNT even demanded the amendment of the Constitution to allow for the death penalty in the Paro case and other similar cases.
However, the government and the vast majority of MPs do not favour the introduction of the death penalty but are in favour of strengthening the penal code and bringing in other policies to better protect children.
This is important as the Penal Code is undergoing amendments and is currently in the National Council.
The government spokesperson and Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said, “There should be tougher laws on such issues but death penalty should not be there since it was abolished a long time back under the guidance of our King and it also goes against the concept (Buddhist) of killing.”
The minister said most of the countries around the world has done away with the capital punishment. “But there definitely should be more severe penalty like life-imprisonment,” said the minister.
NA Speaker and NC Thrizin
The National Assembly Speaker Tshogpon Wangchuk Namgyal said death penalty is not a solution and cannot be done. But he said there should be a way forward. “Some severity is needed in the current penalty for rape. With the incidences that are happening more often now, we have to take it seriously and think over it. So this is what I feel right now,” said the NA speaker.
The Chairperson of the National Council Thrizin Tashi Dorji said a harsh penalty is very important in such a situation given that the the crime that happened is unthinkable.
The Thrizin said it is equally important to debate on what level of penalty should be given to the perpetrators because just saying death penalty will not work.
He said looking at the increasing number of crimes it has come to a point where there is a need to relook at the existing laws for rape. He said, “There is a need to make the penalty for rape harsher than what we have but right now we have not discussed on what kind of punishment is to be given.”
“About death penalty, we all know why it was abolished long time back. So we have to think about it rather than just saying the perpetrators should be given death penalty,” he added.
He said there is possibility to make the laws harsher than the existing law for rape and if members feel that the current law is not harsh enough then there is possibility of amending it.
“When we say, we do not want death penalty for rape, that does not mean that we support such crimes, sometimes people interpret it in other ways. There is always a room for debate,” said the NC Chairperson.
Most of the members of parliament (MPs) said that death penalty is not a solution but the law for rape should make stringent and that there is a need to revisit the law.
Eminent Member of National Council Dasho Tashi Wangyal said he do not have much to add on death penalty since death penalty was a well considered provision in the constitution which says there will be no capital punishment.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said the existing laws are fairly adequate on the issues related to rape.
He said there are different types of rapes described and then the penalty for different types of rapes and compensations are given separately.
“Nonetheless it could be reviewed to make the law more stringent through higher penalties and compensations but not to the extent of going to death penalty because death penalty is out of the question and it is not an answer and that may be more inhuman. That is for the good of the humanity and for our country,” said the MP. He said it is the judge who can impose a higher or lower penalty but there is a need to revisit the law. He said the parliament is in the process of reviewing it and it has gone to the national council, the MP added.
He also said the bigger problem is that the relevant agencies and the government need to look deeper into more than making laws stringent.
“I think it calls for looking deeper into our social and economic problems in the country, which is leading to all these kinds of unfortunate incidences,” said the Panbang MP. He said the government must look into the issues of alcoholism, drugs, employment, family breakdown issues and other social issues. “These are the bigger things that need to be looked into rather than death penalty,” said the MP.
“We have not looked into this but we have looked into consensual sex. It takes care of rape but does not takes care of rape and murder. Under the compensation, it can go even bigger and there could be another forms of additional penalties,” said the Panbang MP.
The MP from Pemagatshel, Choining Dorji said that they are still reviewing the case and they have not come to a decision yet. He said to coming up with death penalty would be very difficult because it has been abolished long time back and it is not there in the Constitution.
Bardo-Tong MP Gyambo Tshering said there should be tougher laws and at the same time implementation is very important.
“We have all the rights and acts for child protection but when it comes to implementing, it is very less. All of us has to be responsible for creating harmony in the country and creating awareness is very important. No one comes forward unless it is been reported. There are many unreported cases,” said the MP
He said there should be tougher laws for rape rather than coming up with death penalty.
The MP said in other countries there is death penalty as well but rapes are still happening.
Member of Legislative Committee, Tsirang-Toed MP Dhan Kumar Sunwar said at the moment they are still discussing the issue and they will put it up in the parliament.
“We do not have any concrete solution at the moment on whether there should be tougher laws or additional penalties. We might have to get the wisdom of other parliament members as well,” he said.
“Death penalty won’t be the logical answer for the rape. This kind of unfortunate crime is still there. So I do not think death penalty would be wise,” said the Tsirang-Toed MP.
Similarly, a NC who is a members of the NC’s Legislative Committee that is reviewing the Penal Code said the case is still under investigation and they will know only after all the investigations are done. He said social media is not always true and the truth should be verified first.
The MP said, “Death penalty is not even in the Constitution and the Constitution is our mother law.”
The MP said in the case of the statutory rape, the penalty was already increased.
So when it comes for law-making he said it has to be a major decision and parliament also comprises of two houses, so two houses have to agree with the particular decision.
He said NA has already done some review of the penal code and it is with the NC. “The committee members are looking at it,” said the MP. However, the MP said they cannot make any further comments on this issue.
However, the Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo who is also the Chair of the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly (NA) said “My stand will be same till the end.” She had earlier recommended amending the Constitution and the Penal Code to give the death penalty in the Paro case to prevent such future cases.
NCWC says application of law is issue
The Director of National Council for Women and Children (NCWC) Kunzang Lhamu said life imprisonment should be enough as long as the harsher punishment is given.
She said, “The harshest punishment is life-imprisonment but till now perpetrators have not really been met with the punishment they deserved. If this can be stringently done by all the law enforcement agencies, then it does not have to be capital punishment.”
She said that in a 2015 study it was found that 71 percent of the perpetrators were given minimum punishment. She said especially for rape below 12 they should not allow for making any compromises on the punishment. There should not be any second thought given for minor rapes, she stressed.
NCWC’s 2015 study on 47 cases found that in many of the cases, for minor rape the lower punishment was given in most of the cases.
Kunzang Lhamu said the perpetrators should be given harsher punishment but it was the other way.
“So somehow we feel that the victims may not have found justice,” said Kunzang.
She said that another concern is that once these perpetrators are out of jail there is no proper mechanism in place whereby such perpetrators are kept away from children or they don’t work in places which comes into direct contact with children. “So these is something required through policy,” said the NCWC head.
Protocol and mapping of entire country
Meanwhile, the Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo in a Facebook post on 24th September announced that the ministry of Education, NCWC and the Department of Local Governance is working on Instituting minimum child safety and protection protocol in all primary schools.
Lyonpo said, “Today, as young as six years old children are sent off from many schools without any adult supervision and that is not acceptable. I do understand that there are challenges, but if we come together we should be able to come up with solutions. It is our collective and shared responsibility to protect and provide a safe environment for our children to grow and thrive. We welcome your suggestions to prevent and mitigate risk to our children.”
Kunzang said the protocol will access and ensure the safety and protection of the children of all ages and more so of the younger ages. “In many times what makes children vulnerable is that the perpetrators are people known to them and living with them. People in position of trust. So awareness is very important,” she said.
Kunzang Lhamu said that they are taking care of deceased’s mother and the immediate family member who would need counseling and support.
“When we did an assessment, the mother did not have any works and because of her vulnerable situation, something like that happened to her child. Sometimes when the mother is so vulnerable and does not have a lot of help from outside then things like that tend to happen as people think that they are easy targets to carry out the crimes,” said Kunzang Lhamu.
“We are trying to help her to get some skills and then get a job and thus trying to empower her. Our only regret is that we should have known that there are very vulnerable families but our vulnerability identification is very poor. There might be so many women and child who need help but we are not been able to reach out although we are trying to reach out through various awareness and toll free number but it is not enough. We really need to do vulnerability assessment of the entire country,” she said.
It is now becoming clear that much more needs to be done to protect children beyond the drafting of laws.
The penal code for rape of children below 12 years old was amended in 2011 and it was made tougher by making it a felony of the first degree which means minimum of 15 years and maximum life-imprisonment up from a felony of the second degree which is 9 to 15 years.
Similarly, section 192 amended in 2011 says that the offence of gang rape of a child of twelve years and below shall be punishable with life imprisonment which is stronger than the earlier version of it being a felony of the first degree.
Section 194 in 2011 was amended as: “The offence of gang rape of a child above the age of twelve years and below sixteen years shall be a felony of the first degree. Offence of gang rape of a child above the age of sixteen and below eighteen years shall be a felony of second degree”.
Earlier the offence of a gang rape of of a child above the age of twelve years and below sixteen years was a felony of the second degree.
It is clear from the above that the laws for rape of children had been made tougher in 2011 but problems continue to persist and so issues in implementation must be fixed and a more multidimensional approach is needed.