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Violence against women and girls is endemic in Bhutan

Bhutan’s women and children are not safe -they are not safe at homes, at work and in schools.

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Updated: April 20, 2018

The recent report of a health technician sexually assaulting a patient attendant after injecting her with an anaesthetic drug is sickening and the news of a vice principle of a private charity school molesting nine students has left the people appalled.

At every forum, Bhutan boasts of enacting several legislations to protect women and children and takes pride in calling itself a matriarchal society.

These are mere rhetoric.

Violence  – physical, sexual and psychological against women and girls is endemic in Bhutan. That authorities mandated to protect these rights do not make information on violence against women and children public for fear of alarming the people is telling of how pervasive the problem is.

Under the veneer of progress, reports reveal that reprehensible acts towards women and girls exist in the country. A recent study on violence against children found that more than one in 10 children experience at least one incident of sexual violence. While 7.7 percent of the children reported that it occurred in school​,​ 2.3 percent reported experiencing it at home. One study by the National Commission for Women and Children observes its surprise that the main perpetrator of girl child sexual abuse who had experienced it was the teacher. When an organisation that is empowered to protect the rights of women and children is surprised with such findings, we have reasons to worry.

Records with RENEW show that 3.1 percent of women experiencing sexual violence are between 15-19 years with 80 percent experiencing it more than once. Perpetrators of all forms of violence include father, stepfather, relatives, teachers and soldiers. Those who were sexually abused are between nine to 19 years. Of the 65 sexual abuse cases reported to the forensic unit in Thimphu last year, 28 cases were reported among those below 18 years. The youngest was two years, eight months old girl child and the youngest perpetrator was a seven-year-old boy. Sexual offence reported across the country from 2012 – April 2015 show that 96 of the 149 cases were among those below 18 years.

These figures indicate that tough laws do not deter perpetrators from committing a crime. It shows that awareness among women and girls on reporting violence is still dismal. And this gap is increasingly allowing teachers in private and public learning centres to take advantage of our children. Such gaps and inefficient monitoring system have allowed health workers to misuse their positions and prescription drugs.

Often, the perpetrators are repeat offenders. But the society has cultivated a culture of transferring troublemakers and of tolerating violence committed at home or abroad. We have only ourselves to blame for the state of our women and children.

Magnified by the reach of the social media, there is uproar on the recent sexual abuse cases. These cases will however, not stop authorities concerned from harping about the laws and mechanisms that are in place even if they do not implement them.

But such cases remind us that it is time we shed the false pride we harbour of enacting several legislations It is time we underst​ood that these were put in place more to fulfil a legislative requirement than to keep our women and children safe.

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About the Author: Kuensel is Bhutan's national newspaper and a member of the Asia News Network.

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