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Safety first or last?

It takes violence to get women and children in the centre of attention. They are molested, raped and battered. The perpetrators involved happen to be those who are expected to protect them from such harm. In recent months, the country has reported health, education, security personnel and family members committing crime against women and children.

These incidences are not isolated as many choose and continue to perceive. It is an indication of how pervasive these acts are in the country that claims itself as a matriarchal society with strong women and children protection laws. These incidences show that our cities and villages, institutions and homes are not safe for our women and children. One rape or molestation is enough to trigger the feeling of insecurity and fear in the society. It is enough to scare and scar them. 

Yet, our policymakers and the society do not appear to be doing enough to address these concerns. The indifference is as palpable as the fear that has gripped the society, raising serious questions on our institutions, law enforcement agencies, lawmakers, the judiciary and the society as a whole. 

The office of the attorney general dropping child molestation cases has been questioned as much as the issue of compensating the husband when the wife is raped. The national commission for women and children (NCWC) has found that there were not only discrepancies in the legal actions taken in sexual abuse against children cases, but that the actions taken were also not strong to deter such crime against children. 

The police’s naming and shaming strategy is not implemented uniformly.  More than a month after the Bjemina molestation case, the education ministry has not yet met to discuss the recruitment process of teachers in private schools. It is reported that the office of the attorney general has shared with the Cabinet its recommendation on tightening security clearance processes for those convicted for committing sexual crime against children. 

The government has said that it has zero tolerance to crimes especially those committed against children. We have as many reports on violence against women and children as we have laws to protect them. But Bhutan’s problem has always been weak enforcement of policies and laws, not the lack of them. The way we are handling the recent cases show that we have much to do in protecting the most vulnerable section of the society. 

Among others, NCWC has said that it will have a toll free helpline by October this year to provide 24/7 counselling and immediate referral services for women and children in need of care and support.  By then, the commission already had 31 cases reported between January and April this year. This means, at least two cases are reported every week and by October, the number is likely to increase. 

If this is the pace of setting up a helpline, an example of an action being taken to report crime against women and children, we all should be worried. But for a society that is growing indifferent by the day towards such acts, even inaction or weak action is perhaps a non-issue. 

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