Big blotch on a peace-loving country

Over 60% of minor rape victims were known to the perpetrators while 16% of the victims were related by consanguinity

By Chimi Wangmo

Bhutan is considered one of the safest and happiest communities in the world, however, the recent spate of crime against minors, especially young girls who had fallen prey to sexual predators, has shaken the conscience of the nation that is gradually beginning to come to terms that our streets and roads are no longer safe for our women and minors.

The unsavory developments comes close to the heels of some haunting memories, of the mysterious death of two minor girls in Thimphu and Paro last year which occurred between spate of few months, and which has till date eluded police giving rise to unnecessary fears and feeling of unease among citizens.

While police are yet to find any conclusive leads to find the cause of the mysterious deaths ,and that might lead to the perpetrators who are still at-large, such incidences often haunt people’s memories for ages and also question the capability of our law enforcers to ensure that communities, especially the vulnerable, are safe from such harm.

The most recent case occurred on Friday this week as police in Gyalpoizhing of Monggar detained a 21-year-old man for the alleged rape of a minor and impregnating her.

According to Mongar police the girl, who was just 14-years-old during the time of the incident, was the step-sister of the suspect and is a student in one of the schools in Mongar.

Additional sources claimed that the perpetrator is a class-12 dropout while the victim studies in class VIII in one of the schools in the dzongkhag.

Police said the incident had occurred during the second national lockdown and by the time the incident was reported to the police the minor was already six-months pregnant.

Earlier, in the same week on Monday Mongar police also detained a 25-year-old man in custody for the alleged rape of a minor, also a 12-year-old student.

Police said both the cases had a stark resemblance as the perpetrators in both cases were related to the victims, and that most minor rape cases reported in the country had some startling relation to a close kin of the victim’s families.

The Penal Code of Bhutan grades the rape of a child above the age of 12 years as a felony of the second degree with a minimum prison term of nine years which can be extended up to 15 years, and even life imprisonment if the crime committed is of grave nature.

However, the rigid clauses in our law are not seem to be deterring people from indulging in such heinous acts, in fact the cases have risen over the years.

Officials from National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and RENEW state that most of the cases of minor rapes go unreported as people tend to solve and come to amicable terms among themselves, because of the fact that father of the minor girls’ child has to serve prison terms.

In June this year, the startling rape of an eight-year-old girl a class two student, in one of the gewogs in Samtse prompted law enforcers to clamp down more on such crimes.

Following the incident and other reports of crimes against minors, the Office of Attorney General (OAG) issued a press release on the recent child molestation, rape of child and other sexual related cases.

The OAG stated that as the central state prosecution agency, is concerned with recent cases.

“While OAG has continued to prosecute cases referred with utmost due diligence and sought criminal sanctions from the courts, it has now become a grave concern for the OAG and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) with recent cases of the rape of a child as young as 12 and eight years,” it said.

It also stated that OAG, in collaboration with the RBP, decided to fast track investigation and prosecution and pursue the highest criminal sanctions against the perpetrators.

The press release further stated Bhutan has always been considered as safest, law-abiding and the citizens’ unconditional respect for the rule of law.

“As mandated by the laws, OAG and RBP will continue to prevent, combat and restrain those individuals so that our children and women feel safe and confident in our criminal justice system,” it said.

Further, the NCWC states that rape victims are not given due consideration and the response is often negative lacking social and legal justice, placing the blame squarely on the victims themselves.

“As a result, they are often stigmatized and left to battle with the aftermath of the rape alone. On the other hand, the offender leads a normal life with or without paying for the offence committed, as not all survivors/victims are able to get justice,” NCWC reported in one of their findings.

According to data for Bhutan sourced from the Office of the Attorney General, it reveals that from 2009 to 2020, there were 372 cases of child rape and molestation and 20 cases of gang rape of a child; and 25 cases of child molestation.

It further recorded 158 cases of rape of a woman and 59 cases of criminal attempt to rape a woman in the same period.

As per the data, there was an average of 4 cases every month of rape of women and children in the last 11 years.  Out of the total 530 cases of rape reported, 70% comprised of rape of children.

In a desk study carried out by NCWC on Rape of Minors, out of 45 cases reviewed, 71.1% of the perpetrators were given the minimum punishment, and over 60% of the victims were known to the perpetrators and 16% of the victims were related by consanguinity.

The data and the findings indicate the need for more effective strategies and interventions in minimizing and preventing such offences through reviewing legislations and making punishments stronger amongst other actions.

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