Tashi Dema 

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) is calling for more effective strategies and interventions in minimising and preventing rape cases in the country, including reviewing legislations.

The call follows statistics of rape the commission compiled and how perpetrators are dealt when convicted for the crime.

The commission, through a compilation of cases or rape in the country between 2009 and 2020, found about 530 cases of rape. Of that, 70 percent are rape of children.

Their analysis found that about four women and children were sexually assaulted every month in the last 11 years.

A press release from the commission stated   there were 372 reported cases of rape and molestation of children in the same period. “Of the total figure, 41 cases are statutory rape, 286 cases of rape of children above 12 years, 20 cases of gang rape of a child and 25 cases of child molestation.”

There were also 30 cases of criminal attempt to rape of a child, of which 19 are for statutory rape and 11 are for children above 12 years.

The commission cited the example of murder cases of Paro and Dechencholing in 2018 where two minor girls, aged eight and 10, died of heinous crimes committed against them. That same year, a five-year-old girl was also raped in Dagana, a four-year-old was molested in the CFM at Thimphu and a six-year-old boy was raped in Paro.

In the data the commission availed from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), there were 158 cases of rape of woman of which 23 are cases of rape of a woman, 21 are cases of gangrape of a woman, 26 cases of rape of a married woman and 9 cases of gang rape of a married woman.

There were also 59 cases of criminal attempt to rape a woman, 41 cases of attempt to rape a woman and 18 cases of attempt to rape a married woman.

NCWC’s analysis revealed that in terms of the sentencing of the cases, 64 percent of the cases were convicted, 22 percent are still pending before court, about six percent have been acquitted and the rest have been returned for review or have been deferred or dismissed.

The commission reviewed 45 cases of rape of minors and observed a common pattern where the perpetrators received minimum sentence.

It found that 71.1 percent of the perpetrators were given the minimum punishment of which 81 percent for no particular reason and for the rest, the mitigating circumstances was taken into consideration based on the fact that the perpetrator had no previous criminal record. “Over 60 perent of the victims were known to the perpetrators and 16 percent of the victims were related by consanguinity,” the commission stated.

The Penal Code of Bhutan recognizes sexual intercourse with a child below the age of 18 years as a penal offence. Section 182 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2011 states that the offence of statutory rape shall be a felony of the first degree.

“Considering that most of the perpetrators are those who are in a position of trust with the child, in order to deter such crimes, there is a need to raise the penalty to life sentence if the defendant is in a position of authority or trust towards the child, or where a child is in a relationship of dependency or in a relationship that is exploitative of the child,” the commission’s press release stated.

Section 178 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 provides that “The offence of rape shall be a felony of the fourth degree” which is a minimum of three years imprisonment. “In light of the devastating consequences physically, emotionally or psychologically and socially, the sentence needs to be reviewed and made much more stringent in order to ensure justice to the survivors or victims and also to deter such heinous crimes in the future,” the commission stated.

It stated that rape is a crime and social problem that is somewhat regarded lightly and of least priority or concern despite the fact that the victims suffer from grave physical, mental, and emotional consequences. “While the term ‘rape’ simply means ‘having sexual intercourse with another individual forcefully without his or her consent,’ it is a heinous crime with devastating implications. The act may be carried out through physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent. The term rape is, sometimes, used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.”