Fixing accountability for people gone missing

Missing of people especially children has evoked extreme reaction in social media as in the case of the two minor girls-one in Paro and another in Dechencholing, Thimphu recently. However, the eight years old was sexually assaulted before being murdered and the cause of death of the 10-year-old is not yet established. This raises the issue of how serious the police are in dealing with missing cases of people and the need for a different approach to deal with the cases of missing people.

The incidents created a sense of panic, with many people on social media questioning the credibility of the police and asking other citizens to stay safe.

There is no specific or clear definition to missing of person according to police official.

But, investigators have a procedure for determining if the case is urgent and maybe it happened with the 10-year old girl who went missing and if the police had acted the moment the matter was bought to their notice then the 10-year old would be found alive and safe. As with each passing hour, the likelihood that the subject will be found decreases.

Talking to Business Bhutan, the officer-in-command Major Nima Tshering explained that any missing of person case is dealt like any other cases. “We ask for the mobile number of the missing person and through the tower location try to trace the person or we try to contact the last person he/she has contacted during the missing period. Even after doing this if we don’t locate the person then we flash out the information about the missing person in our police group across the country along with the description. We also use the help of social media by posting the image of the person with the hope someone might have seen him/her,” he said.

Further explaining, OC said they do also ask about the mental status of the missing person. Besides investigating the case he also said they offer emotional and psychological support to the family of the missing person during the phase like giving them the hope that police will do their best to locate the missing person, not to worry and have faith in police.

Many blame the callous attitude of the police in handling the situation and state that most of the cases are not monitored within the days of filing by the family members and relatives, however, after the two recent incident of missing cases police seem to have become cautious and serious about missing cases especially pertaining to children.

As soon as police get a call reporting that someone is missing, they begin to evaluate whether the case even involves a missing person at all said a police officer. As in some cases some people fail to inform their family members where they are and their family assumes that that they have gone missing and lodge complaint with police.

Speaking to Colonel Tshewang Rinzin of Crime branch with Royal Bhutan police (RBP) he said they are still compiling the figures of missing of people and there is no official statistics as to how many people have gone missing and out of which how many were male, female and children as of now.

The statics compiled with police in a span of 17 years from 2002 to 2019 till April states 2,429 cases of missing people 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 police  were able to trace back 276 missing persons – 103 male, 92 female and 124 children age below 18 (63 boys and 61 girls).

However, in 2002, 19 cases of missing person – 10 male, two female and seven children (three boys and four girls) was recorded of which police found eight of them – six male and two female.

Considering the size of the country, the number is number is alarming and worrying, said observers.

In most of the cases the families of women are easily perturbed and they tend to file a complaint if they are not found for a few hours, while an equal number of men or even more go missing compared to women. However, it usually takes a family two to three days to file a case when it comes to men.

Business Bhutan spoke to some of the people with regards to how the missing cases can be dealt and many said police can do much better than what they are currently doing.

A concerned father of a daughter based in Thimphu seeking anonymity said, “It is utterly disturbing to hear the news of little children missing and young girls being brutally assaulted and murdered. It creates fear and panic. Whose responsibility is to create our country safe, particularly for vulnerable children? Obviously, this is the primary responsibility of the police.” He further said, “They need to be proactive and efficient in preventing crimes against children and nabbing those perpetrators and bringing them to book. Their inefficiency could spell more danger as criminals remain at large. The police must be definitely working hard but recent cases have shown that they need to buckle up and do more. The public trust is faltering and that can be damaging to the image of the police force.”

Kinley Dema, mother of a 12-year-old daughter said, “The countdown to finding a missing person begins the moment someone concerned for his or her well-being alerts law enforcement however, many believe that it is the other way round and missing of person cases are not dealt as seriously as other heinous crimes.”

Chencho Dema from Thimphu