Stern laws versus addressing root cause

It has not been guaranteed that the amendment of laws against drug pushers will put an end to the crime

The number of drug abusers in the country has been on the rise each year. While many have attributed the rise to increase in drug dealers and smugglers, many others have also pointed to the root cause of the issue, which in Bhutan’s case are unemployment issues, family problems, depression and lack of proper counseling, among others.

Earlier this week, the Chithuen Phendhey Association submitted a petition to the Prime Minister, signed by more than 13,000 people calling for harsher penalty against drug peddlers, and also for the review of drug and narcotic laws.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA), Damcho Dorji at the ‘meet-the-press’ session yesterday reported that 199 individuals involved in abusing and peddling of illegal drugs across the country have been arrested by the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in a recent massive police operation.

“It is not possible to provide facts and figures for each district, but from the 199 people who have been arrested till date, more than 50 have already been charge-sheeted and some people have already been convicted,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said there are already strong legal provisions in place and it is the people who feel that the laws are too weak. As for peddlers, he said the penalties are already stern.

“It is a felony of second degree, which is not a small penalty,” he said.

Lyonpo also stressed on the importance of identifying the root cause of the crime and the need to address it.

Lyonpo said sending a person to serve jail terms is not the solution. He said almost 90 percent of the people who commit such crimes are found to be people without a job. “This indicates that these people are struggling to get a job and when they don’t get one, they are compelled to going into such business so that they can make fast living,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo also said most people are engaged in such businesses due to socio-economic problems, such as coming from broken families and children being abandoned by parents, among others.

“We don’t have place where we can rehabilitate these people, which means ultimately, we are not able to provide them the facilities that could have corrected them in the first instance,” Lyonpo said, adding that the offenders keep on repeating the same crime.

“In many of these instances, there are repeaters and many of them are, time and again, arrested and punish them some fines, especially the abusers,” Lyonpo said. “Therefore, I am quite skeptical about whether increasing the imprisonment term would make a difference. And on the other hand, we will have more people living the rest of their lives in jails.”

“I don’t think that is a solution. The solution lies in correcting the root causes, in reallocating these people and creating awareness,” Lyonpo added.

On the challenges faced by authorities, Lyonpo said most of the drugs abused in Bhutan are prescription drugs which are legal in India, from where the peddlers actually smuggle the drugs into the country.

Lyonpo said the authorities can control the illegal business only after it enters the country and not across the territory. “So, I don’t see any immediate solution by making this law stringent,” Lyonpo said.

In addition, the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said there is no magic bullet to the problem. “All of us have to play our respective roles. The government, civil society, parents, schools,

law enforcement agencies, regulators and even the media,” Lyonchhen said.

On the recent petition submitted by the Chithuen Phendhey Association, Lyonchhen expressed appreciation that people are concerned about the drug issue and are willing to work towards combating it.

Lyonchhen also said that the law for peddling or selling drugs in Bhutan is very strict, and assured that the government will look into it.

The Prime Minister also said that the Office of the Attorney General is looking at the relevant laws to see if there is a need to amend them. “If the law needs amendments, we will request that the amendment be tabled,” Lyonchhen said.

Tashi Deki

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