Report: More than one in 10 children experience at least one incident of sexual violence, a study on violence against children in Bhutan has found.

The report produced by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), the government and UNICEF Bhutan in May 2016 stated that while the prevalence of sexual violence among children was 12.8 percent, it is more prevalent among girls at 13.5 percent compared to 11.9 percent for boys.

It stated that children reported that they experienced sexual violence at a young age, with about five percent reporting that sexual violence occurred before they turned 13. “About 7.3 percent had experienced it between ages 13 to 17 years,” the report stated.

It is also stated that children who reported sexual violence said it occurred at school and in homes. While 7.7 percent of the children reported that it occurred in school, 2.3 percent reported that it occurred at home.

The report also stated that sexual violence occurred more in boarding schools than in day schools and the perpetrators are mostly friends of the survivors.

It stated that the national survey on violence against children in Bhutan in 2015 also revealed the prevalence of non-consensual sexual touching among adolescent boys in school, in context of inappropriate sexual experimentation but deliberate sexual assault.

The survey also found out that in homes, sexual abuse was more prevalent against girls than boys, usually committed by fathers, stepfathers, brothers-in-law or family friends. “More girls reported experiencing sexual violence in public places, citing instances of sexual violence on the road or when travelling in public transport,” the report stated.

The report also points out that night hunting, which involves a male sneaking into the home of a “desired” girl or woman, has apparently decreased in recent years but is still practised in some rural communities, especially in eastern and southern Bhutan. “Traditionally, night hunting was intended to be a practice of courtship but it is now widely accepted as putting girls and women at risk of sexual harm.”

The survey also stated that civil society organisation representatives working with exploited children estimated that half of the female commercial sex workers in southern parts are minors from Bhutan and neighbouring countries. “These vulnerable girls work along side women in hotels, drayangs, karaoke bars or snooker halls,” it stated. “The Bhutanese girls were reported to be from all parts of the country but from poor families, with many said to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.”

The report also stated that about 5.3 percent of the girls compared to 1.4 percent of boys experience sexualised and insulting verbal harassment in public. “Sexualised comments are made by people known to them as well as strangers when walking alone or tending animals in grazing areas,” it stated. “Girls working in drayangs said they often feel sexually harassed by their clients.”

Meanwhile, the research also indicated that exposure to digital pornography is an emerging issue in the country. “The national survey found that children are much more likely to have watched sex videos than being forced or pressed into making videos of themselves naked involved in sex acts or voluntarily making such videos of themselves naked or involved in sex acts.”

The report also stated that more than 20 percent of children reported exposure to pornography either in their home or in other’s house, which is made possible with the increased ownership combined TV-VCR-DVD machines and with greater access to the online world through mobile phones and tablets.

Tashi Dema