Tshering Palden 

The joint sitting of the Parliament yesterday condemned the act of rape and passed harsher punishments for rapists after it amended eight clauses on rape in the Penal Code of Bhutan.

Rape, rape of a married person or a pregnant woman will be a third-degree felony according to the amended Penal Code.

The Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 grades these acts as fourth-degree crimes with a sentence of three to five years in prison.

The amendment of the sections means now a person convicted of rape or rape of a married person would be sentenced to a prison term ranging between five and nine years.

The Bill upon receiving the consent of His Majesty The King will complete the process of amendment.

The joint session amended eight sections on rape under Chapter 14 of the Code, including the sections on unnatural sex yesterday.

The punishment for statutory rape has also been increased to a life sentence in prison for defendants on three conditions. The sentencing will be applied to a defendant who is in a position of trust or authority towards a child, is a person with whom the child is in a relationship of dependency or if the person is in a relationship with a child that is exploitative of the child.

Statutory rape for other convicts will be a first-degree felony with a prison term of more than 15 years. In the first amendment of the Code in 2011, it was graded a first-degree felony.

Statutory rape is an where the defendant engages in sexual intercourse with a child below twelve years, or an incompetent person,  either with or without knowledge of the other person being a child or incompetent person.

The rape of a pregnant woman would become a second-degree felony if the fetus is harmed as a direct result of rape and the defendant will be liable to pay gao or alimony.

The offence of gang rape is also upgraded from third-degree to second-degree felony with a prison term of nine to 15 years. It becomes a first-degree felony if the fetus is harmed or damaged as a result of the act and carries more than 15 years of prison term as a punishment.

Members debated if harsher penalties would guarantee a drop in such crimes.

Ugyen Namgay said that between 2009 and 2020, there were 372 rape of children cases excluding the 30 attempt to rape cases. There were also 158 cases of rape of women and 59 attempted rapes in the country.

He said that the committee considered various trends in legislation in the region and abroad. “We also considered the report from the office of the Attorney General on the increase in the number of such cases,” he said.

Others said that the draconian law was justified to protect the vulnerable women and children against such crimes.

One of the most debated clauses of the Code was section 213 on the definition of unnatural sex.

The National Assembly had repealed the section but National Council recommended that it should remain and altered the definition. The House passed the joint committee’s recommendation. The amended section states that a person shall be guilty of unnatural sex if the person engages in sexual conduct that is against the order of nature. The committee added an exception to the definition: “However, homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex.”

The offence is graded as a petty misdemeanour which has an imprisonment term of one month to a year.

The chairperson of the Joint Committee on Penal Code of Bhutan, MP Ugyen Namgay from Haa presented the committee’s review on 24 disputed clauses of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 which included the eight additional new clauses yesterday.

Other amendments included sections on fronting, abuse of market, burglary, entrapment, and crime against public election.

The joint sitting adopted the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 with 63 Yes and 6 abstaining out of the 69 members present and voting.