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For the sake of children

Bhutan may be committed to protect its children from all forms of violence, but reports indicate that the country is not doing much.

The low prosecution level of child molestation cases suggests that investigating agencies aren’t doing much in gathering evidence. The buck is passed to the Office of the Attorney General, which decides that child molestation cases lack the evidence to prosecute cases in court. It drops these cases and the child’s and the family’s pursuit of justice snubbed.

But even when cases of violence against children are tried in court, the national commission for women and children’s assessment found discrepancies in legal actions taken against such cases and that the actions taken were strong enough to deter crime against children. It was observed that even though felonies were enhanced during the amendments of laws, there was a need to improve the way cases are prosecuted including the forensic services.

Last week, Bhutan hosted  a high – level cross regional meeting on elimination and prevalence of violence against children in Thimphu. At the meeting, our policy makers restated the much-repeated rhetoric of Bhutan’s commitment to protect children and to establish child protection measures.

Our commitments, which are made at regional and international level, do not translate into actions. At home we rarely make such commitments to children. In our quest to portray a good image of the country, we conceal facts. Soon after the study on violence against children was uploaded online, it was learnt that NCWC was asked to take it down. Now, we have agencies refusing to share the number of child molestation cases the OAG did not prosecute.

How that would help protect children in difficult circumstances or improve their wellbeing becomes a non-issue for agencies that are expected to ensure safety and justice. In dropping cases for want of evidence, the OAG appears to be protecting itself more because losing cases in court may reveal the weaknesses of the institution.

Work has begun to enhance reporting of crime against children and access to services but these may not be enough to convince the court beyond reasonable doubt or to enhance the welfare of the children. Agencies have to start making public, studies and information that tell the society about the state of its children. Its anxiety over how the alarming figures would portray the country should not override its concerns for the welfare of its children. Misplacing our priorities when it concerns children would cost the country more.

One of the biggest challenges the country faces is that children rarely report violence against them to adults and service providers. When they do report, we see botched investigations and prosecutions.  Actions such as these do not help the children or the society, let alone the country. We have failed our youth. We cannot afford to fail our children.

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