Protect children from predators

Many of us have been horrified by the rape of two minors that took place within two consecutive days in Dagana and Paro earlier this week.

In Dagana, a five-year-old girl was allegedly raped on September 18. On the next day on September 19, a class II student of a school in Paro, who was eight years old, was raped and murdered on her way from school in the evening. The body was found later that night in a bush after the victim was strangulated.

What can we say about these horrifying deeds? We are struck speechless, even numb.

There is no denying that our children are increasingly becoming more vulnerable, less protected and becoming easy victims of this sickening wickedness. Even babies who are barely a few months old are not spared or immune to the atrocity of rape and sexual abuse.

Further, many cases, it is said, go unreported because of social taboo and stigma. As such, the reported cases would constitute only a little part of the entire phenomenon and that the real situation could likely be far worse. Most cases of child sexual abuse are suppressed and silenced for fear of stigma and gossip.

Meanwhile, laws on rape in the country are clearly articulated with grading of rape as a felony of the fourth degree.

According to sections 183 and 184 of the Bhutan Penal Code, a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years, if the defendant has sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 12 to 18 years. And the offence has been graded as a felony of the third degree.The offence can have a sentence to imprisonment ranging between five and nine years.

But in statutory rape, as per sections 181 and 182, a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of statutory rape, if the defendant engages in sexual intercourse with a child below 12 years, or an incompetent person, either with or without knowledge of the other person being a child or incompetent person. The offence of statutory rape shall be a felony of the second degree with sentence term ranging between 9 to 15 years.

Child molestation is reportedly a felony of the fourth degree, while sexual harassment is rarely regarded as an offense.Life imprisonment, according to the Penal Code of Bhutan, is given only to those guilty of first degree felony.

Further, Bhutan is also signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Despite the laws and signatories, it’s sad that they have not deterred rape or violence against children. Laws must be revisited and strengthened to tackle the situation if they are ineffective. There is also the need to raise social awareness among parents and children to make them aware of these worms that live in the society.

All authorities, eventually, must ensure that no perpetrator of rape or child sexual abuse escapes justice. We need to be tough. We need to be unforgiving. This is because it is not an issue we can take lightly. Let’s protect our children because it’s our responsibility.