Sexual Harassment to become part of NA Amendment Bill, 2024

Sexual Harassment to become part of NA Amendment Bill, 2024

As deliberations on the National Assembly Amendment Bill 2024 continued, NA member from Kengkhar-Weringla, Mongar, submitted that two important issues have not been adequately addressed in the NA Act, which she emphasized as crucial.
MP Dorji Wangmo noted that the Act’s Code of Conduct does not explicitly address sexual harassment. “The other issue is corrupt practices. Though there is a vague reference to gifts given and others, there is nothing concrete about corrupt practices,” she said.
Speaker of the NA, Lyonpo Lungten Dorji, agreed with the MP and immediately asked the committee to include the two provisions submitted by the MP.
According to the Penal Code of Bhutan (Sections 205 and 206), a defendant is guilty of sexual harassment if they make unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal abuse of a sexual nature. The offence of sexual harassment is a petty misdemeanor and of a criminal nature.
While cases of sexual harassment are not rampant in Bhutan, MP Dorji Wangmo emphasized the importance of future prevention. “The first step towards preventing anything is to have legal provisions. No MPs may have engaged in such acts so far, and with the provision in the Code of Conduct, such things will not happen,” she said. “And when we talk about sexual harassment, most think it is about a man sexually harassing a woman. It can go both ways,” she added.
The MP stressed that the parliament and MPs should be role models and set the standards. “As I submitted in the Parliament, ‘charity begins at home,’” she said.
Further, Dasho Dorji said that one of the most important goals is to make Bhutan crime free. “If we do not include these important provisions in the code of conduct of leaders, people may say we are not bothered,” she said.
Speaking about it, Tashi, a teacher in Thimphu said she did not know that sexual harassment is not in the NA Act. “It goes to show that our leaders were either not bothered or thought that it is not part of a leader’s code of conduct. The sole woman MP brought it up and I am proud, as a woman and a citizen.”
Regarding corrupt practices, the NA Act 2008 has several provisions, but they are not very clear. Under the Code of Conduct related to corrupt practices, there are two specific provisions. Section 278 states, “A member shall declare all gifts and benefits received in connection with their official duties, in accordance with the rules prescribed by the Anti Corruption Commission.” Section 280 states, “A member shall not accept decorations from foreign countries and shall, before receiving international awards, inform the National Assembly. The National Assembly shall decide whether the international award in question can be accepted by the member.” The Act does not specify the penalty if a member engages in corrupt practices.
According to the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), sexual harassment encompasses a range of behaviors, including staring or leering, unwelcome touching, suggestive comments, taunts, insults, jokes, displaying pornographic images, sending sexually explicit emails or text messages, and repeated sexual or romantic requests. It also includes more severe acts such as sexual assault, stalking, and indecent exposure.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2008, specifically Article 9 (17) and (18), mandates that the state take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation against women. This includes addressing trafficking, prostitution, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation in both public and private spheres. Additionally, the Constitution ensures the protection of children against all forms of discrimination and exploitation, including trafficking, prostitution, abuse, violence, degrading treatment, and economic exploitation.
Further reinforcing these commitments, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2013 and the Child Care and Protection Act 2011 provide measures for redress and protection to eliminate sexual harassment and safeguard individuals from such misconduct.

By Nidup Lhamo, Thimphu