Understanding and fighting domestic violence in the Bhutanese setting

Although the number of domestic violence cases being reported is increasing every year, however, that doesn’t mean the domestic violence crime is growing. In fact, the growing number indicates that people are now more educated and aware of the law, and are seeking protection and justice from such a crime. It is also due to stakeholders such as RENEW and the police doing its job right.

In the past years, the cases on marital rape never came into light, although it is reflected in the Penal Code of Bhutan and same with molestation in schools by the teachers. With increasing awareness and education on sexual harassment and sex education, the number of such cases reported is increasing.

RENEW has come up with a consensus building initiative, whereby the main objective is to create awareness on domestic violence (DV) issue, gender base violence and sexual abuse through their volunteers around the country.

Director of RENEW, Dr Meenakshi Rai, said that as per Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) 2013, domestic violence is a crime and they are not allowed to negotiate. The Act also states that there are four types of domestic violence namely; sexual, physical, economic and emotional violence.

According to RENEW, victims of DV come to RENEW volunteers for a help as they  do not want to go to the police and the court, and in some situation they are in a dilemma not knowing how to handle the case.

However, as per Article 22 of DVPA 2013, only the police has or can allow negotiation depending on the criteria. Therefore, in order to know the legal framework, RENEW is tying up with the police.

“Our volunteers are not a mediator or a paralegal, we are just a consensus builder, and thereby, we are trying to create open options to our clients. In the process, we also inform the clients if the case is formal (rape or sexual harassment) or informal (issues out of jealousy),”said RENEW Director.

In addition, she said that the cases on domestic violence are still happening and they go unreported. “Few cases which were reported openly are from urban areas and we don’t know what is happening in rural areas, and this is so concerning whereby we need to create awareness in every community,” she added.

Initially, physical violence was the highest number as with injury and over the years psychological violence is the most reported case. However, last year, among the four types of violence, the data with RENEW shows the highest was emotional violence.

Depending on cases, RENEW provides counseling which includes individual counseling, couple and family counseling. “Victims, themselves, are so hesitant to share every fact.”

DV cases are not like cases that had happened between two strangers where both would fight for justice. DV cases involve people within the family which is why they prefer counseling rather than make it a police case

Nevertheless, she said if the case is heinous like, rape or a severe battery, RENEW makes sure to inform the victim to report the matter to the police. “If we fail to inform such incidences to the police, we will be liable for failing to report such crime to the police, and therefore, we make sure to inform the police but only after informing the clients first,” she added.

Regarding the cases which go unreported, she said that this is because of the stigmatization, myth, involvement of family, social barriers and many more. “We want every people to live with the justice and this is why we encourage people to come forward, whereby we keep confidentiality of the clients,” she said.

She also said that the reasons for DV are uncertain because there are no accurate reasons behind such an act. Last year, there were 25 men who were the victims of DV and have come forward for a solution, she said, adding that usually men don’t come forward due to gender issues and ego.

As of now, RENEW has 4,000 plus Community Base Support System (CBSS) volunteers, out of which 100 plus are in the ground working hard and 300 plus are active volunteers.

Meanwhile, Major Karma Rigzin, Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) for Women and Child Protection Division (WCPD) and crime prevention division, RBP said that the abuse has been always there but they did not know where to go for a help.

Since there was no place to report and ask help, the cases on DV were silent and went unreported. She said that in 2007, a pilot project established WCPU in Thimphu and has seen 777 cases being registered.

In line to this, she said that of 777 cases, only few went to the court, and most of the time the spouses withdraw the cases. “We allow the withdrawal of cases as per the severity of the cases, and we allow the withdrawal because we don’t want to destroy the family,” she added. WCPU has seen minimal cases where the men were beaten up by their wives.

With the success of the establishment, the same unit was replicated in Phuentsholing in 2009 and in Paro in 2011. All the three units have separate detention for children with recreational facilities and detention is the last resort for children with conflict of law.

“In DV related cases we do not need any reason,” Major Karma Rigzin said, “People give alcohol as a reason behind it, but as per my experience, I feel that alcohol is not the cause but just a triggering factor.” She also said that, earlier men hit on women’s face with a given reason that they may not go anywhere to report to anybody.

“The battery case caused by men and women are two different things. There was a case where the ribs cage of the woman victim was broken, while when a woman hits a man, there will only be a scratch,” she added.

In addition, she also said that there were a few cases reported for marital rape as it was difficult to prove due to weak laws. She said that while dealing with such cases the main challenge is to deal with a victim who is in abusive relationship for a very long time, whereby the victim herself is having tough time to come out.

Likewise, when it comes to having to deal with children, she said that since they don’t know any implications, they speak every truth and no matter how much they interrogate. “When it comes to children, most of the cases come in for sexual abuse and those children in conflict with the law come for drug abuse, burglary and theft,” she added.

With the current scenario with many DV cases being reported, she said that the division is going all around the country to sensitize people on the issue. She said, “We not only sensitize outsiders but we do within ourselves because we feel that if we are to inform people, we ourselves have to the role models.”

In such cases, she said that as a preventive measure, they conduct road-show and conduct sensitization programs in localities, schools and within the armed forces. They also have implemented sexual harassment policy at their workplace so that they can give better security to female police personals.

She said if there is a threat to life and security, it is always better to report the case to the police. She said that the police are professionally trained to handle such DV cases, and how to interview the children. In addition, she said that, they have incorporated Child Care Protection Act 2011 and Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013.

The police established a WCPD desk in RBP HQ in 2013, and likewise WCPD desks in Wangdue, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, Trashigang, Trongsa, Mongar and Tsirang but those don’t have detention.

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