Kept at 18
The National Law Review Taskforce’s recommendation to reduce the age of consent from 18 to 16 years for girls saw various parliamentarians stood up to share their views. Khamaed Lunana MP Yeshey Dem said that she is not in support of the reduction of age of consent from 18 to 16 years even though some boys are imprisoned on rape charges. “We have reached to a stage where even some father harass and rape their own daughters, so I am not in support of this. Marriage Act will also be affected. Rape cases also will increase due to reduction of age of consent. So instead of thinking only about boys behind the bars, let us also think about the future consequences for the girls,” the MP said.
Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Choden shared a similar view, and said, “Instead of looking only at around 100 boys who are behind the bars and suffering, we must also look at the solution for other problems that will arise.”
Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that of the two recommendations listed for a 3rd reading, he is completely against the 1st reading that suggests reducing age of consent to 16 years. The PM said the girl’s age should not be reduced to 16 years. He said he is uncomfortable with such a law as he is also concerned about how other countries might view the law. He also added that there are health risks associated, such as sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies and cervical problems, if the age of consent is reduced to 16 years. He said the legal age of consent must be kept the same for both boys and girls at 18 years.
Many parliamentarians were also against the first reading recommendation, and instead supported the second alternative recommendation. Drametese Ngatshang MP additionally said that the population of girls between the ages of 15-18 years is 33,000 as of now. He added, “If the age of consent is reduced, most of these girls will ruin their lives just for the sake of few youths who are behind the bars.”
Meanwhile, Jomo Tshangkhar MP Norbu Wangzom stated that she was a working MP when the law was made. “Different places have different cultures and traditions. Changing a law is a big thing. People here talk based only on theoretical analysis instead of practically visiting and researching. Most of the problems are happening in rural areas. Girls are always at loss no matter what. So instead of changing the whole law, we can rather look at some changes that can be made for the youth behind the bars so as to not ruin their lives as well,” she said.
Opposition Leader said that the actual problem is the law, whether the sex is consensual or statutory, the age reduction can greatly affect the youth. He added, “The lawmakers can rather look for slight changes to be made in the law so that it is bearable for the youth in prison, instead of directly deciding to take a big step of reducing the age of consent.”
Update: The next reading on Section 183 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 2011 was on Monday where it was kept unchanged which means that the age of consent remains at 18 and only consensual sex between 16 to under 18 youth is not criminalized.