Sad woman complaining holding a pregnancy test sitting on bed

The reality of Teenage pregnancies in Bhutan

Impregnating a girl below 18 years of age will land a man in jail, the law is clear on that. However, it is not much of a deterrent as teenage pregnancy is prevalent.

Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) has received 36 cases of teenage pregnancy in 2020.

As per the data with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), there were 8 reported cases of teenage pregnancy in 2020 and 33 cases of rape of a child above 12 years of age this year. RBP has also received 5 cases of statutory rape (rape of a child below 12 years of age) in 2020.

Many of the men involved in teenage pregnancy claim that they are innocent as there was sexual consent from the girls. The men say they are being penalized because men are not allowed to have any sexual activities with a girl below 18 years of age. For that matter, they are charged with rape of a child above 12 years of age as per the Penal Code of Bhutan.

However, there are cases of rape where the girls are forced against their will. There are cases where underage girls are made pregnant by their own uncles and stepfathers.

It was learnt that most of the teen girls impregnated come from the low-income group, and are students and from illiterate group. The probable cause of teenage pregnancy, as cited by the agencies that look after their welfare, are lack of sex education in schools, poor guidance by parents and access to pornography sites.

The other cause could be negligence by the individuals, themselves, as they do not make use of contraceptives provided at free of cost, the agencies stated.  

RBP

Chief of Police, Major General Chimi Dorji said that teenage pregnancy has been happening for ages, which went unreported. Even today, it goes unreported and whatever cases received today is very less compared to the actual cases, he added.

“As per the law, until one attains 18 years, one is considered teenage, and even if one takes a decision willingly, their statement will have no weightage in the court of law,” he said.

He said the probable cause of teenage pregnancy can be because they get sexually active at a very young age, and it has become a fashion to have sex once one attains the age of 17. However, he said that it would be difficult to ascertain the exact cause.

“Older men have no shame in having sex with girls as young as 9 years old, and impregnating teenagers. However, it does not mean there is no involvement of young men, there are cases, but very minimal,” the Police Chief added.

He said there was a case where a man had impregnated a 13-year-old child in Paro. In some cases the suspects are the stepfather and uncle of the victims, he added. In rare cases, the suspect are the victim’s own father.

It is difficult to question a child (victim), as the child is inconsistent with her statements. The sentencing would differ as per the gravity of the case and age of the suspect.

An Investigation Officer (IO) said that once the case is reported to them, they have to investigate the case and charge the men as the law demands. 

JDWNRH

JDWNRH Medical Superintendent, Doctor Gosar Pemba, said that they do not report every teenage pregnancy to RBP because doing so would discourage them from coming to hospital for delivery, which would pose a risk to both the mother and her child.

However, “We do receive complicated cases, whereby the mother’s life is at risk and where the father of the child fails to cooperate. In such cases, we do report but it’s very few. Otherwise, there is nothing in black and white saying we must report every teenage pregnancy to RBP.”

In such cases, all the hospital can do is to make the information available on the contraceptive measures and protect the safety of the child and mother, he added.

Complications are much higher in teenage pregnancy as the teenage girl’s body is not fully developed to be a mother, passage of the baby through the birth canal can be obstructed which may lead to death of both, and they may suffer from heavy bleeding.

He also said, “The baby may not get proper nutrition from teen mothers, and thereby, premature birth is high. However, as far as we are concerned, we did not have any death case in teenage pregnancy.”

With such high health risks, the health department urges teens to refrain from getting into sexual activities however, if it cannot be helped, they can than make use of various available contraceptive, he added. 

NCWC

National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) has no compiled data on teen mothers and children, however, they have received 4 cases from Thimphu alone in 2020.

An official from NCWC said, “Hospitals report to us for social support, and we have been facilitating the services to both the mother and child. In maximum cases, the teen mothers do not know who the father of their child is. There are cases where the father of the child does not have the ID card. We report the case to police to avoid issues in future.”

For the mother, since most of the teen mothers want to continue their education after the delivery, NCWC enrolls them into schools as per their convenience. Likewise, for the child, they study the situation of the family and see if the grandparents can take proper care of the child and hand over the baby to them. If not, NCWC facilitates the adoption measures.

However, she said, “We can only give the child up for adoption if the child has a census. Otherwise, if a child has no identified father or if the father has ID card issue then we don’t give for adoption. For those who are not eligible for adoption, we facilitate them into foster care and KIN-SHIP program.”

In foster care, the child is placed with non-relatives to be raised, while in the KIN-SHIP program the child is placed with relatives to be raised. Of the four cases, NCWC has given only one child up for foster care.

NCWC conducts awareness on the issue in all districts, she said, adding that as a part of the program they have been carrying out early identification and safe referral this year in almost all the districts.

Ministry of Education

An official from Department of School and Education (DSE) said that knowing the importance of sex education; the ministry has introduced sex education along with life skills education in schools, which takes place once a week.

Schools are also encouraged to impart sex education messages through school plays or dance during the annual school concert.

No matter how much effort the schools put in, at the end of the day, how parents guide their children matters, as everything happens during the vacation, he said. During winter breaks, they conduct workshops where one of the components is sex education and all the health coordinators are also sensitized.  

Meanwhile, he said that if any concrete research or recommendations on the matter come from think tanks in Bhutan, then they could consider such recommendations, as the curriculum is changeable considering the needs.  

OAG

Office of Attorney General has received 37 cases of rape of a child above 12 years of age in 2020 that includes the cases of teenage pregnancy.

An official said, “In teenage pregnancy cases, if a father accepts the child then there is nothing to worry as he would be convicted as per the gravity of the case. However, in some cases, there would be 2 to 3 fathers for a single case for which we have to send their DNA.”

In doing so, it sometime takes one to two years to get DNA report, whereby the case remains pending, hampering the prosecution, he said.

As per section 183 of Penal Code (Amendment) of Bhutan 2011, a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of twelve years, if the defendant commits any act of sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of twelve to eighteen years. However, consensual sex between children of sixteen years and above shall be deemed to be rape.

The offence of rape of a child above the age of twelve years shall be a felony of second degree (9 to 15 years of imprisonment) as per section 184 of the Act (Amendment).

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