603 people still missing

Complainants changing their mobile numbers and complainants not having recent pictures of the missing people are the main hurdles in solving cases of missing person

The cases of missing people reported with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) have been gradually increasing over the years.

In a span of 17 years from 2002 to 2019 till date, 2,429 missing people cases were reported from across the country, of which 855 were male, 764 female and 810 were children (including both boys and girls below 18 years – 371 boys and 439 girls).

And even if 1,826 people have been found, which include 554 male, 574 female and 698 children below age 18 (322 boys and 376 girls), there are still 603 people missing as of now – 301 male, 190 female and 122 children (49 boys and 63 girls) below the age of 18.

The year 2010 saw the highest case of missing person with 319 cases registered with the police and in the same year police were able to find 276 missing persons – 103 male, 92 female and 124 children age below 18 (63 boys and 61 girls).

However, the year 2002 saw only 19 cases of missing person – 10 male, two female and seven children (three boys and four girls). The police found eight of them – six male and two female.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the officiating deputy Chief of Police of Crime and Operation Branch, Colonel Tshewang Rinzin said the figures of missing people were high because the complainants never come back to police for follow up and the police assume that the person is still missing.

He feels that complainants do not update police about the missing person possibly because they fear that the person missing might come back as a corpse and they feel that the missing person would be interrogated or might be involved in some sort of criminal activities, for which they don’t want to be associated and harassed by the police.

Another reason for the high number of missing person is because the cases of elopement and people absconding are also registered under similar case.

“There are also cases of people who have gone missing after embezzling funds and after unable to pay back loans to the banks and loan sharks. These cases are registered in a similar way,” he added.

And with the Standard Operational Procedure (SoP) in place for missing people, police have been able to solve most cases of similar nature.

The Colonel said Thimphu police has made tremendous improvement in solving most of the cases related to missing people.

.“Most of the times cases of missing people are feared to be linked with trafficking. However, none of the missing people in Bhutan has any link with trafficking. It’s just that complainants do not inform the police about the missing person coming back home, “he said, adding that it’s also the responsibility of the complainants to give an update on the missing person, irrespective of whether the victim has come back or not.

 A main hurdle in solving cases of missing people is that complainants change their mobile numbers, making it difficult to reach them. The police don’t know where to contact them for further updates. While in most cases, complainants do not have recent pictures of the missing people, according to the Colonel.

Citing an example, the Colonel said recently a complaint of a missing woman was filed with the Thimphu police and on investigation it was found that the mobile number of the victim was switched off. Later when the missing woman was found, she told police that in order to escape from her abusive husband she had gone into hiding and had her phone off.

 “There are such cases and people misunderstand the concept of missing person. Understanding the disappearance of the missing people is very important,” he said.

“Any circumstance that may indicate that disappearance was not voluntary should also be looked into,” the Colonel said. Now after the missing person is found, police have to look if the victim has suffered any offence and investigate if they have or are involved in any criminal activity.

The Colonel also explained that depending on the sensitivity of the case and the person involved, concerned police officer or in-charge of the case may upload the picture of the missing person on the RBP website. The photo can be removed after the person has been found.

Meanwhile, the guidelines on how to handle cases of missing person by the police officers were circulated back in 2014. During the last Superintendent’s (SP) conference, missing person case was given special and important agenda.

Major Karma Rigzin of Woman and Child Protection Division under the Crime and Operations Branch said that a person who has been reported missing, but found later must report to the police so that necessary follow ups can be done and they should take the responsibility too.

“Victims should be facilitated and approached to the nearest police station instead of going to the police station where the case has been lodged,” she added. Meanwhile, there is no specific time period for a complainant to lodge a missing person case with the police. It is also up to the complainant if they want to continue looking for the missing person.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu