Dechen Dolkar 

Members of the National Assembly raised concerns yesterday about the increasing reported cases of sexual harassment and physical abuse in the country. Members from both parties called for action to address the issue.

During the National Assembly question hour session yesterday Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Chhoden  said that incidents of harassment and physical abuse in the workplace have been increasing every year.

According to research, around 40 percent to 60 percent of the victims are women and teenage girls.

She said that some of the victims are experiencing mental issues and others had to leave work. “What are the policies and measures in place to prevent such incidents?”

According to the Constitution, Article 9 Section 17 states that the State will endeavour to take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation against women, including trafficking, prostitution, abuse, violence, harassment, response, and intimidation at work in both public and private spheres.

National Commission for Women and Children chairperson and Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the increase in cases may be attributed to the increase in awareness programmes.

“When people report more incidents, they will gradually decrease when the consequences are known,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that there are laws such as the Labour and Employment Act and the Penal Code of Bhutan to deal with these offences.

Lyonpo said that the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources has also developed guidelines on reporting sexual harassment.

In 2018, the Royal Civil Service Commission also identified two officials as the people to whom to report these issues.

Lyonpo said that recently, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), in collaboration with Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry, has also provided training and created awareness to reduce abuse and harassment in the private sectors.

NCWC has also created a committee in every dzongkhag and gewog to address such issues. Cases can be reported to the NCWC through calls to its toll-free number 1098 and its mobile application.

Similarly, Sangbaykha MP Dorjee Wangmo said that a review done by the NCWC on sexual assault cases from 2009-2020 revealed that every week, a woman or a child was sexually assaulted.

She said that of the 530 cases, 70 percent were the rape of children. “These cases take place either at work, schools, or at home, and despite passing strict laws from Parliament, it is a concern to witness the increase of such cases in Bhutan.”

She asked what plans and programs are initiated to protect women and children against such abuse.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that it is the responsibility of every individual to report such abuse. “Though such incidents happened before, many were reluctant to report the cases to the authorities.”

Lyonpo said that the NCWC is also creating awareness in every dzongkhag through the legal officers in dzongkhags and gewog administrative officers in the gewogs, who are its focal people.

Lyonpo said that under Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen’s Royal patronage, The Pema Centre will be rendering services to the victims of these crimes.

“It is important to educate children at school, and for society to respect women,” Lyonpo said.