Proposal to reduce age of consent from 18 to 16 sparks debate

The Chairperson of the Legislative committee, Bongo-Chapchha MP Tshewang Lhamo introduced the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 and asked for the third reading to be conducted in this session.

The most significant amendment proposed to the Penal Code bill 2019 was the reduction of age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years of age.

The legislative committee for this recommended amending section 183 of Amendment act 2011 based on a review by the National Law Review Taskforce (NLRT).

Drametse-Ngatshang MP, Ugyen Wangdi stated that the consent age must be reduced to 16 considering the number of youths mostly 18 years of age and below are put behind bars for consensual relations.

The Chukha MP also stated that a part of the country’s economy goes toward the services of the prisoners mostly consisting of youths.

Additionally, finance minister, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering stated that ages of those who are put behind the bar in reference to the RBP cases are very alarming and this issue is something that needs to be discussed and must be finalized on some mutual grounds so it shouldn’t be kept for the winter session as there is a need to reduce the age from 18 to 16 years since its becoming a daily issue reported otherwise.

While, a lot of MPs were in support of reduction of age of consent from 18 to 16 years and shared their concerns over youths behind bars, some female parliamentarians stood up to raise their voice as well; Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Choden said, ‘When we make a law, we should not just look at one side of the story, there can be multiple of consequences. Decreasing the age to 16 might benefit the men  but a girl’s life is not only ruined on an individual level but there will also be an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies in the country if we have this law.”

The Khatoed-Laya MP Tenzin said that, people behind the bars are looked after at the government’s expenses.

He said, ‘ Girls get married before the legal age based on parents’ forced decision but when divorce takes place, the parents of the daughter usually influence their daughter to put her husband behind the bars on the ground of extra marital affairs which consequently leads to men taking double punishment.”

The MP said that section 183 has sent about 133 men to prison so far.

The legislative committee also recommended amending sections 28, 70 and 71 to incorporate a definition of recidivist and habitual offender. The Legislative committee recommended to use the term ‘habitual offender instead of recidivist to mean a person who has been convicted of a crime more than twice.

Some courts allow criminals to pay thrimthue  even if the person has few criminal records whereas some court disallow criminals to pay thrimthue considering the person as being recidivist even if the person has only committed a single crime.

The taskforce committee also recommended amending section 39 of the Penal code act 2011 including the word ‘maximum’ while calculating the compensation a convict has to pay to the surviving spouse or next of kin.  Additionally, section 203 about offences of child molestation included what acts against a child would be considered molestation which was accepted by the legislative committee.

The Khatoed-Laya MP added that section 492 and 493 on illegal hunting and fishing must be deleted as for some people, fishing is their main source of livelihood

The house will hold the third reading of the Bill on June 11 to deliberate the legislative committee’s proposal to amend 8 provisions and insert two new sections.

About Karma Chuki Namgyel

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