Younten Tshedup

At least one child was sexually abused every week in the past five months in the capital according to reports with the national referral hospital.

The forensic department at the JDWNRH recorded four child sexual assault cases in January. There were two, three and seven similar cases in March, April and May respectively.

This, according to health officials, is an increase of almost 300 percent compared to the same period last year. Between January and May 2019, the department recorded five child sexual assault cases.

Forensic specialist with the hospital Dr Norbu said that the trend is worrisome.

“Most of the victims are school going girls below the age of 18. Having early sexual exploitation means that they are more vulnerable and could be further exploited in the future.”

These numbers are only those that are reported. Officials said that there could be more that go unreported.

While there are no specific reasons for the assaults, taking into account the 12 cases in the last three months, Dr Norbu said that a probable cause could be lack of engagement for students as schools remain closed.

He said that the majority of the cases involve love affairs between the victim and the perpetrator where the male partner is usually above the age of 18. In some instances, the male partners were married.

Dr Norbu said that most of the cases were initially reported to police as missing of a person. Later when the person is found, it was known that they had spent time with their partners without the knowledge of their parents.

 He said that all the cases so far were asymptomatic, meaning that they did not have any severe genital injuries. Also, many did not wish to undergo investigation fearing it would put their partners into trouble. Among the 12 cases, two did not give their consent for medical examination.

As a medical person, the specialist said that they could not force someone to undergo the examination.

“It is a very private and intimate examination that involves the genital parts, and without the cooperation of the patient, we cannot do the test,” he said.

“However, if the police deem that medical examination is crucial in the investigation of a case, we may have to do it by putting the patient under anaesthesia.”

Recently, the department saw a 20-year old woman seeking medical termination (abortion) of her pregnancy. She was eight weeks pregnant, and her partner, a married man, had refused to take the ownership of the child.

It is a difficult situation for the health professionals in such cases, said the specialist.

He said abortion is legally allowed in cases such as – if the woman is a victim of rape and has consequently become pregnant or if a case involves incest and if the victim is likely to develop a mental and psychological disorder due to the pregnancy.

“We’ll have to take this matter with the gynaecologist, psychologist and the administration, among others.”

He said that before the current pandemic when the borders remained open, contraceptive methods were readily available across the border. Now with the borders closed, access to such services is unavailable, which is why people are turning up at the hospitals.

Meanwhile, the forensic department yesterday received an alleged sexual assault case in a two-year-old child from Nganglam. The stepfather is the alleged perpetrator.