With reports of heinous crimes against children every alternate day, it is clear that we have a national and social problem on our hands.
The problem has to be tackled at two levels: One is the successful prosecution of the crime and second more important bit is prevention.
On the prosecution front, we first need a good forensic lab as currently DNA samples have to be sent outside Bhutan for that clinching evidence which is so crucial in sexual assault cases.
The absence of a good lab and strong prosecution system has meant that a lot of those who commit such crimes get off lightly.
The judiciary has also been relatively light handed in sentencing sexual crimes against children, and perhaps, there needs to be stakeholder consultation with the Judiciary on what constrains them.
Is it the strength of evidences or the mix ups with consenting cases of statutory rape or something else?
Whatever be the reason for the light sentencing of the past, it must be resolved to ensure stringent punishments under existing laws.
Then we must also strengthen the ability of our legal prosecution lawyers , like the OAG ,so that they can prosecute the cases more successfully than the outcomes so far.
I would not support capital punishment, personally, as it has a lot of other implications, but I do support the need to toughen the laws in such heinous cases, like the Paro or Dagana cases.
Like for example in the heinous Paro case the law and its application should be stringent enough for the convict to never see freedom again for the rest of his natural life.
We also need to have more CCTV cameras in public spaces as the perpetrators in the recent minor rape case in Paro and Thimphu molestation case could be caught due to such cameras.
On the prevention front – it is high time that the RBP start compiling a data of child sex offenders who have to regularly report to the RBP on their current job and location so that they are not allowed to work or be around children in jobs, like teaching, medical staff, etc.
This is regularly done in the west as such sex offenders are likely to repeat this behavior.
This information of registered offenders in the area should be made available to parents, schools and others who are concerned about the safety and welfare of children.
A case in point is the Bjemina school Vice Principal who was earlier imprisoned for rape in Trashigang, but after serving a short sentence, he was released and he got right back into teaching in Bjemina where he molested dozens of young girls. The current school had no idea about his past.
Another idea is to give a massive push towards sensitizing young school children, parents and teachers on things, like ‘good touch and bad touch,’ among other things.
There is a depressingly large amount of international literature on this and Bhutan should start reading up.
Institutions should put in place mechanisms that allow children and women to report sexual harassment and take credible action.
This is because the safety of children and women are related and cannot be segregated.
We must consciously work to make our schools, public spaces and even homes safe for children.
Parents should not hesitate to take tough calls for their children, even if it means offending a suspicious family member, etc. This because a large number of child abuse cases happen within the larger family unit.
The media, on its part, must report such cases and keep the spotlight on them so that there is public awareness and pressure which can translate to action.
In fact, the current practice of the media is to respect the delicate Bhutanese sensibilities of the readers, and either ignore such stories or bury them deep in the inside pages – to make the crime as inconspicuous or bland as possible.
This approach has clearly not worked and it is time to turn up the spotlight on such heinous crimes so that there is action at all levels.
Among the Bhutanese media an unspoken practice is to not name and shame convicted sex offenders. I think it is time we start thinking more about the victims than the rapist’s welfare.
There are large numbers of male migrant laborers coming into Bhutan mainly for construction, and so such entrants should also be well documented.
At a societal level we can no longer afford to guffaw about ‘practices’ like ‘night hunting’. It is rape- pure and simple.
Ultimately, the solution lies in both structural changes and improvements, like good labs and laws, and also societal changes in mindsets and attitudes.
We can all start the changes in our homes by teaching our sons to respect women from an early age.
We also need to teach our children, both female and male, to be aware of all the danger signs and to not hesitate to avoid them or report them to us, their only guardians.
The key is to keep working on the issue instead of just the cycle of occasional collective outrage followed by large periods of indifference.
By Tenzing Lamsang
The writer is the Editor of the paper