Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Despite repeated requests to media outlets, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) officials said updates on the recent rape of a minor wasn’t removed from their digital platforms. Officials claimed such publications often hampered investigation. 

Issues of seeking consent to publish similar media-related issues was also discussed at a three-day workshop on child and gender-sensitive reporting held in Punakha that ended on July 28. 

Those in the media argued that if the information provided was correct and didn’t lead to the identification of the child, publication of rape stories shouldn’t require consent from the relevant agencies such as NCWC, police or parents.    

NCWC’s director general Karma Drukpa said that when covering such issues, media organisations tend to rush to break the news.

“If the victim was your sister or a family member, would you publish the story? Will you name her? You should also take it from that angle.”

Among other issues, access to information, competency of school counsellors who cater to children, maintaining personal and professional boundaries, lack of resources for private media firms and low visibility of NCWC were also discussed during the programme.

Kuensel Assignment Editor Tashi Dema said that during most cases, children confided in their teachers if there were concerns at home.

She said that while the majority of counsellors and teachers in schools were committed to their work, there were some who were not sensitive to such issues.

“In the recent case in Lhamoidzingkha, a girl committed suicide right after school counsellor called her and her father and asked private questions.” She asked if NCWC trained or collaborated with counsellors in the past or if there were plans to do so in future.

According to NCWC’s senior programme officer Tshewang, a pilot project on engaging facilitators in gender-based violence (GBV) project was completed in a school in Babesa. 

She said that NCWC now planned to roll out similar engagements in about three schools in future.

In the past, NCWC has trained front liners regarding GBV and other manuals on child protection, Tshewang said. 

“We also have plans to train specialised service providers for GBV and child protection. There, we categorise counselling as one of the GBV and child correction services.”

NCWC’s Chairperson Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji, who attended the closing ceremony, explained the rationale behind increasing the legal marriage age in Bhutan to deter teenage pregnancy. 

Lyonpo said that the data showed more teenage pregnancy cases between the ages of 18 and 19. 

The need to increase the legal marriage age was also raised at the National Council question hour session on June 11. 

There were 330 cases of teenage pregnancies recorded in 2020. Of that, 167 cases were aged between 18 and 19 years while 163 cases were below the age of 18 years. 

At the workshop, Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji also reiterated the importance and difficulty of being a journalist, especially in private newspapers that work with limited financial resources. 

Lyonpo said, “I think you all have to work for the best interest of women and children.”

The three-day programme held in Punakha engaged more than 15 journalists, bloggers, radio producers, and editors. 

United Nations Development Programme funded the event organised by NCWC. 

Edited by Tshering Palden