Sixty percent of the perpetrators involved in sexual violence against children are someone known to the child, according to an assessment on minor rape cases by the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).

Of the 60 percent, 15.56 percent of the perpetrators were found to be incest, which means it includes biological father, relatives and siblings. The rest of the perpetrators were neighbours, family friends, or people whom children looked up to for guidance or as role models.

The assessment reviewed 45 cases of sexual offense against children that were with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). It found that there were not only discrepancies in the legal actions taken against such cases, but were also not strong to deter such actions.

The 45 cases were from 2009 – 2015 and prosecuted by the OAG across 20 dzongkhags. The case includes rape, attempt to rape, statutory rape of minor, molestation, and sexual harassment.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden, who is also a chairperson of the commission, said that a small assessment was carried out to see the actions taken on the minor rape cases.

“Although the felonies have been enhanced during the amendments, we felt that the rape of child should be very stringent,” she said. “There is a need to improve the way cases are prosecuted including the forensic services.”

Lyonpo also said that NCWC is looking into instituting women and child welfare committees and appointing protection officers in all dzongkhags where such cases could be reported. “This is going beyond prevention and precautionary measures where society should also be a watch dog.”

However, stating the sensitivity of the findings, the commission did not share the report and its findings of the court procedures and legal actions. The commission’s senior legal officer, Ugyen Tshomo, said that it was an in-house assessment conducted to find out the lapses.

She said that the main purpose of the assessment, which was conducted sometime in 2016, was to see the existing gaps in the law and its implementation.

The commission’s director, Kunzang Lhamo, in an article that was recently published in Kuensel, said that the country’s preventive and protection system is weak with many gaps and challenges. “But if supported with adequate financial and human resources, the efforts spent in developing legislations, policies, guidelines, SOPs and coordination mechanisms will not be wasted.”

Ugyen Tshomo said the assessment also found lack of awareness and ignorance especially on the consensual age, but there were perpetrators who have also used consensual age as an excuse.

The assessment also revealed that sexual offenses against children are committed in both urban and rural areas where most of the victims are from low-income families.

“With such assessment as an intervention and based on the findings, we’re working on a national plan of action for childcare wellbeing to ensure protection of a child,” Ugyen Tshomo said. “We’ve also started a central management information system linking other agencies to capture details on violence against women and children.”

However, the assessment has not looked into the probation period of security clearance for a convict after serving the sentences.

At the education dialogue on April 19, NCWC director, Kunzang Lhamo said that a study on violence against children conducted by the commission found that more than 60 percent of children aged 13-17 years have experienced physical violence including bullying and corporal punishment once in a lifetime.

“When we look at the result, it is not really a question of whether our ministries or the government or CSOs are doing their job or not,” she said, adding care and protection of a child boils down right to the households.

She said the outside body cannot impose intervention but it should start from home because there is only so much institutions, the government and schools could do.

“I think it all comes out from how children are brought up and this is something that we really want to insist on, the environment, in which a child grows up,” Kunzang Lhamo said. “I am not saying institutions and government should stop doing the good work that is being done. Although people are being reactive to such incidences, we have to also open a window of opportunity to strengthen the efforts that we are doing.”

The NCWC is currently dealing with 31 cases received from January to April this year, which includes children in difficulties, destitute, rape victims, sexual harassment, violence against women, children in conflict with the law, matrimonial cases, and trafficking in person.

The commission would also initiate the Toll Free Helpline Services (1098) in October this year to provide 24/7 counselling and immediate referral services for women and children in need of care and support.

Yangchen C Rinzin