Sometime last year, a 12-year-old girl student reported contemplating suicide. She alleged her alcoholic father of touching her inappropriately and made her watch porn on his cell phone.
With a helpless mother and younger sister to take care of, she couldn’t risk taking her own life. She sought help and a case of sexual harassment was filed against her father. He was detained for four months in police custody. However, the court acquitted him because it did not find evidence of sexual harassment and actual penetration.
We are ashamed of the judiciary. It rendered a judgment, not justice. A recent national study on violence against children reported that the definition of violence among participants was strongly guided by a strong sense of injustice.
Sexual touching, according to the study is the most common violence reported by boys and girls. They experience it both at home and school. Exposing children to digital pornography is a form of sexual violence. However, the court, in its pursuit to be proven beyond reasonable doubt , appeared to have overlooked how entrenched the phenomenon of sexual violence against children is in the society. This confirms the finding of another study, which reported that judges, registrars, bench clerks, police personnel and law enforcement agencies are ignorant of child protection laws. What do we make of the court’s judgment in this case? Injustice or violence or both?
According to the study, more than one in 10 children between 13-17 years reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual violence in their lifetime. More than six out of 10 children experienced at least one incident of physical violence. The findings show that our children are victims of physical, sexual, emotional and structural violence.
These cases and findings are chilling reminders that our children are not safe , even at home. It should alarm the society, that’s becoming complacent and indifferent by the day and authorities that proclaim of having the mandate to protect children to spring into action.
Bhutan has signed and ratified nine conventions that protect children. Yet our actions do not appear to do justice, not to the child at least. In an effort to discipline, children are meted with corporal punishment, which remains banned on paper, both at home and in schools. We give electronic devices and cell phones to distract and amuse children not realising the kind of content we are exposing them to. Everyone with a cell phone is aware that there are groups online where adults exchange pornographic materials. We see nothing being done about it. With our tolerance to such acts justified as cultural norms and promiscuity, we now risk failing our children.
How and where did we go so wrong that a society, which pursues happiness for its people is unable to protect its most vulnerable, the children? What then is the country’s purpose of development? If the poverty we see is accepted as an undesired outcome, we must accept that the deprivation of basic needs makes children vulnerable to violence.
We have come so far but the plight of our children tells us that we have not done much. The two children and their mother do not live with the father anymore. They are taken care of but their vulnerability tells us that a society that doesn’t respect and value its children has not progressed.