Tashi Dema 

A 16-year-old minor who was working in a massage parlour in Deki Line in Phuentsholing and was alleged to be offering sexual favours to clients has been identified as a child in difficult circumstances.

Police, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), and Nazhoen Lamtoen conducted an assessment of the child after police in Phuentsholing detained the minor on September 21 this year.

“We have identified her as a child in difficult circumstances, and not as a child in conflict with the law,” an official from NCWC said.

The official explained that police, an NCWC official, and Nazhoen Lamtoen’s case manager in Phuentsholing tried to locate her parents to hand her over to their care. “But we could not locate the father, and the mother is not in a stable situation, either economically or mentally.”

According to the official, if the child is sent back home, there is a risk the child might end up in the same circumstances. “There is also a risk that she might be further exploited for other purposes.”

Officials then decided the child should be identified as a child in difficult circumstances and rescued in a shelter service in Thimphu. “We discussed the shelter service facilitation with RENEW,” the NCWC official said. “RENEW and other civil society organisations are willing to provide shelter support.”

He said that once she is in Thimphu, they will explore livelihood and skills development training for her. “We will then look at the possibility of reintegrating her by collaborating with her mother.”

The child, who is still in detention in Phuentsholing, will be brought to Thimphu sometime this week.

The minor, whose parents are from Phuentsholing but who stays in Tsirang, had gone to Phuentsholing to meet a driver whom she had met online. The driver was detained for having physical relationship the child and will be charged for rape of a child above 12 years.

Meanwhile, those who followed the issue closely welcomed the news.

A corporate employee, Tshering, said that identifying children in difficult circumstances and providing them with a livelihood and skills development can go a long way in building the human resource capital of the country. “If we can rescue, heal, and rehabilitate even one child, it will have multiple benefits.”

A Thimphu resident, Pema, said police and the NCWC should do similar assessments whenever children come into conflict with the law. “Many children who come into conflict with the law have family problems.”

He said that identifying children in difficult circumstances and providing them with services will have a positive impact, rather than the negative impact of sentencing them.