The long wait to open a One Stop Crisis Centre

Health: The judiciary could be deciding cases based on incomplete or inaccurate facts provided by the forensic and toxicology unit in absence of necessary equipment at the Thimphu referral hospital, doctors said.

This was revealed at a high-level consultation meeting in Thimphu yesterday. While judges present at the meeting said they trust the opinion of health officials, doctors said such practice could lead to miscarriage of justice.

The forensic and toxicology unit in the referral hospital registered 342 domestic violence, 578 common assault and 36 sexual assault cases in 2013.  In the same year the unit also registered 82 cases of violence against children below 18 years including domestic violence and sexual assault.

However, the forensic unit does not have autopsy facilities with histopathology lab, toxicology laboratory, forensic DNA facility, forensic Radiology and forensic Odontology.

National referral hospital’s Forensic Medicine Unit head, Dr Norbu said,  “Even death investigation is mere external examination while sexual assault examination is done without DNA analysis, and disputed paternity testing is sent to Sri Lanka.”

The main functions of forensic medicine include gathering of facts in case of injuries, investigation reports, analysis of gathered facts, and giving medico-legal opinions based on the analysed facts.

“Therefore, for forensic medicine works equipment or facilities for gathering facts are essential,” he said. “They are like the wings of birds.”

Forensic specialist and the registrar with the medical university Dr Pakila Drukpa said it takes at least two to three months for DNA test results to come from Sri Lanka. Each sample testing costs at least USD 40 excluding postal charges.

Dr Pakila Drukpa said that the present system subjects domestic violence victims or those coming for investigation under undue pressure as they are treated like any other patient and have to wait in queue.

Establishing a one-stop crisis centre (OSCC) could ease these problems, health officials said. The centre would provide all services such as medical treatment, forensic investigation and advocacy from one place.

Doctors said the idea to establish such a centre is not new. It was recommended at the annual police conference in 2005, then at a judicial workshop in Gedu in 2008, and included in two acts.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 mandates the health ministry to establish an OSCC.

Section 35 of the act states “Health ministry shall establish a One Stop Crises Centre which shall facilitate the victims in receiving the medical treatment and maintain records of treatment of victim.”

It further states that health and medical personnel shall conduct medical examination with due regard to the right of privacy of the victim.

Section 238 of the Child Care and Protection Act states “In order to facilitate expeditious processing of offences against and to safeguard the best interest of the child, the government shall establish a one stop crisis centre in every major government hospital staffed by a police official, psychiatrist, social worker and a legal counsel.”

However, the issue had not received adequate attention for the centre to materialise. Among the key high level officials invited for the high-level stakeholders’ meeting yesterday were the health secretary, home ministry’s director general of law and order, a deputy chief of police and the President of the JDWNR hospital. However, none of them were present at the meeting and all of them had sent representatives instead.

The meeting was to discuss the best practice modality for medico-legal and OSCC services set up in the country.

Officials said those present had no authority to decide on anything so a presentation should be made to the health ministry and then to the Cabinet on the issue.

Several proposed to revive the task force that was in place to begin with and then slowly lobby for more budget and trained human personnel.

Confusion also arose on who should be the lead agency to shoulder the activities of instituting an OSCC.

An official said that unless the issue is submitted to the Cabinet and an executive order issued, nothing is likely to happen.

“So there is no use of talking about setting up an autonomous agency because no one here has the authority,” he said.

Another official said they should take advantage of the mid term review meeting with the Prime Minister and raise the issue there.

Besides budget and infrastructure issues, health officials said health professionals are also reluctant to take up medico-legal responsibilities.

Tshering Palden

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