LG: Pointing out that the current statutory rape laws are unfair and unclear, local leaders asked that the state consider amending this legislation during the last day of the ninth Local Government Chairpersons’ Conference (LGCC) in Phuentsholing, yesterday.

Statutory rape is sexual intercourse with a minor or a person aged below 18.

After officials of the National Law Review Task-force (NLRT) asked the 205 gups to raise any issues and inconveniences they face, a plethora of issues followed. However, questions related to statutory rape dominated the question hour.

Some gups suggested that the age at which a girl can consent to have sexual relations with a man be decreased from 18 to 16 or even 15. Many gups pointed out that it is unfair to boys or men aged 17 or 18 to have to go to prison charged with statutory rape when the relations may have been consensual.

Punakha’s Toedpaisa gup, Namgyel Tenzin, who raised the issue, said that there are no safeguards for those boys or men who fall victim to the statutory rape law. He pointed out that boys and men suffer despite the relations being consensual.

Namgyel Tenzin pointed out that he is not against the current law, but he said that the law must also consider that there are some cases where girls and their families have used the law for vindictive reasons or revenge.

He also pointed out that the law is silent when it comes to boys aged 16 years and below having consensual sex with adult women.

Wangduephodrang’s Aathang gup, Khandu Dorji said that while the state may have found and prosecuted some for such cases, there might be many more cases going unreported.

“If it continues, the lives of many young boys will be ruined,” he said. “Nine years imprisonment is a long time for boys who are aged 18-20 years.”

He said that the law should be amended.

NLRT chairperson and attorney general, Shera Lhendup, who was present with the task force committee members said that statutory rape is a “prominent issue” today.

“It is a genuine concern that the gups have raised,” he said, adding that the task force wanted to hear such issues from the local leaders.

Speaking to Kuensel, Shera Lhendup said that statutory rape cases have left many parents of both girls and boys, helpless and desperate. With the boys and men ending up in prison, the children usually end up without a father, he said.

The task force will now compile all issues that have been raised and present it to the government for discussion. “We will submit these issues so that it is discussed in the winter session this year,” Shera Lhendup said.

The gups also asked that the state look at divorce laws which requires only men to pay alimony following seperation. They pointed out that it is not always the man who is responsible for a divorce occurring.

The gups also pointed out to the task force that the current land compensation rates are not enough and unfair to the people.

Another issue raised by the gups is the long distances couples have to travel to acquire marriage certificates.

Meanwhile, the task force chairman Shera Lhendup said that all the issues raised would be submitted to the government. “We would submit with recommendations and possible solutions as well,” he said.

The four-day gups’ conference that started on January 15 concluded yesterday. This was the ninth conference to be held.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing