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Sexual harassment and violence against women and children – hidden, perpetuated and underreported

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) expresses deep concern on the recent occurrences on the protection issues related to women and children in the country. This calls for strengthened protection services and strong collaboration amongst the concerned agencies and the acceptance of responsibilities by every individual.

With the complexities of protection issues women and children are faced with,the NCWC is stepping up preventive and response programs to strengthen the protection system. In collaboration with key partner stakeholders, several interventions are underway to strengthen the protection system for women and children:

· Operationalising the Standard Operating Procedures on Case Management and Referrals for Women and Children in Difficult Circumstances, which streamlines the roles of different organisations dealing with the protection issues of women and children towards institutionalising an effective and sustainable protection mechanism;

· Implementation of the Central Management Information System which facilitates online case management with all the concerned service providers and houses disaggregated data on women and children;

·  The Toll Free Helpline Services (1098), which is scheduled to be launched in October 2018 will provide 24/7 counselling and immediate referral services for women and children in need of care and support;

·  Work is underway for the establishment of Woman and Child Welfare Committees and appointment of Protection Officers in all the Dzongkhags and Thromdes to undertake case management and increase timely and effective access to protection and response services;

· Building specialised capacities of service providers; and

· Strengthening and stepping up sensitisation, advocacy and capacity building programmes at all levels particularly in the schools, institutions and communities.

 

Consistent efforts are being made on preventive measures through increasing awareness and providing disaggregated data with analysis on women and child protection issues. However, such issues are widespread and under-reported. According to the Violence Against Children Report of Bhutan 2016, only 1 in 10 children told someone about their experience of sexual violence or harassment, with the vast majority telling their peers. This indicates that such issues mostly stay hidden, perpetuated and unaddressed. 12.8 percent of children suffered from sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. The elimination of violence requires the concerted efforts of all stakeholders in particular of those under whom children are placed for care and protection. There is no place for complacency and it is important that all providers of care are accountable, stringently monitored and guidelines and SOPs are fully enforced.

It is time that we acknowledge the truth that social issues are on the rise and if not nipped in the bud, it can be catastrophic. The country’s preventive and protection system is weak with many gaps and challenges but if supported with adequate financial and human resources, the efforts spent in developing legislations, policies, guidelines, SOPs and coordination mechanisms will not be wasted. Full commitment and awareness is a must, from the policy makers to the implementers and players at the community and household levels. Violence against children and women is a social evil that can erode and leave long lasting scars on a society that upholds values of compassion and kindness. Care and protection of children must start from home with parents and caregivers providing the love and care that children have a right to. Schools and institutes need to strengthen their vigilance and have a stronger integration of child sensitive actions in their policies and guidelines. Besides sexual molestation and abuse, children are subject to bullying, corporal punishment, emotional and psychological abuse and neglect.

The National Commission for Women and Children is committed to address all forms of violence against women and children including physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse. A collaborative approach is being taken with its various stakeholder partners to provide the necessary care and support and all citizens are urged to report on cases of violation of the rights of women and children. All efforts are being made to strengthen the prevention and protection system through the provision of a sustainable continuum of care and response services.

Contributed by 

Kunzang Lhamo

Director

National Commission for Women and Children

Thimphu, Bhutan

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