Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

There are no studies conducted to ascertain why domestic violence is high in the border town of Phuentsholing. Many say the bordering town that caters to a floating population, the prolonged lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic (Phuentsholing was under lockdown for almost five months in 2021) and urban poverty could have led to domestic violence, which in turn led to violence against children.

It is straightforward in our society – when frustration or suffocation creeps in, it has to be vented out, said a resident.

“Quite often children become the victim.”

Thousands of Bhutanese used to reside across the border in Jaigaon prior to the Covid-19-led closure in March 2020. Most of them are in the low income group and Jaigaon was a better option for them to find cheap accommodation. However, when they entered Phuentsholing, they were unable to pay rent, leading to financial difficulty and distress in their homes.

Domestic violence, many say is the main cause that contributes to violence against children in Phuentsholing.

Recently, a divorced woman who was the custodian of a five-year-old girl fell sick and had to be hospitalised. There was no one to take care of the girl.

The focal person for RENEW’s Community Based Support System (CBSS) in Phuentsholing, Sonam Chuki, said the woman called and informed her there was no one to even pick up the child from school. The woman requested the focal person to call her ex-husband.

“The man started blaming his ex-wife. After we requested him, he agreed to take his daughter on the condition that his wife should take the child back as soon as she was out of the hospital.”

The woman was referred to Thimphu. The man kept calling RENEW.

“It was as if the child was not his,” said Sonam Chuki. When the woman recovered, she didn’t want to take the child back.

“It is a pure case of neglect,” said Sonam Chuki.

In another case, a divorced woman started to neglect her eight-year old daughter when her ex-husband didn’t pay the sothey (alimony). Later, after counselling the girl, RENEW CBSS handed her to her father as he was willing to take custody.

RENEW has recorded a few cases where divorced parents didn’t help their children in acquiring citizenship identity cards deliberately.

Sonam Chuki said she is worried as the number of domestic violence is increasing in the border town. This year, until yesterday, RENEW recorded 37 cases of domestic violence. This is an increase considering 39 cases in 2021 and 34 in 2020.

Advocacy programmes are being carried out constantly. RENEW, RBP’s Women and Child Protection Unit, NCWC and Nazhoen Lamtoen are at the forefront. An advocacy program was conducted on August 7 at the Amochhu temporary shelter. Seven domestic violence cases were registered after the programme.

According to police, there are not many cases that can be categorised as “violence against children.” However, those few cases that are recorded and reported as violence against children are severe in nature.

This year, two rape cases against girls between 12 and 18 years were reported. In a recent case, a 16-year old girl had a miscarriage and an underage girl had a consensual physical relationship with a man above 18.

Other than this, RBP only saw one battery case of a child.

In 2021, police reported an underage girl engaged in prostitution, operating from a massage parlour. She was referred to RENEW’s Gawaling Happy Home.