After the birth of a child borne of rape to a 12-year-old in Samdrup Jongkhar on May 25, the rapist has been taken to custody. But since he is also the father of the child, the town is rife with discussions and debate on what would be the solution to this seemingly “between the Devil-and-the-deep blue sea.”
As the summer session of the Parliament opened on Thursday, outside the August Hall, the parliamentarians have also been talking about the issue and laws which address or rather fail to address such an impossible situation.
Who will look after the child-mother and the baby? Since the rapist is imprisoned, how will he make provisions to look after the two children?
Earlier, the Penal Code of Bhutan (2204) cited the offence of statutory rape as a felony of the second degree punishable by a prison term of nine to 15 years. The Penal Code Amendment (Act) of Bhutan 2011, Section 182 is amended as: “The offence of statutory rape shall be a felony of the first degree.” First degree felony is punishable by a prison term of 15 years.
Observers are of the view that the rapist in this case is escaping with a very light ordeal compared to the damage he has inflicted on not only a child but a whole family. But then, he is supposed to be the father of the baby and must look after the family.
The law does not have any provisions for a case like this except child adoption by the state.
For the well-being of a teenage mother and her child and unwilling mothers, the state offers child adoption. According to the Child Adoption Act of Bhutan (2012), the state's main objective and principle, form, 'the child's best interest and continued well-being shall be the primary consideration for adoption, and a child shall have the right to express one's views concerning adoption'.
According to an official at the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), NCWC counsels and facilitates registering the child for the census, helps the teenage mother to continue education and relocates their school.
NCWC further extends talks to prospective parents for adoption if the teenage mother is unwilling or faces difficulty rearing the child.
However, Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Choden, also the former chair of the Women, Children and Youth Committee of the National Assembly, states that the committee discussed the litigation of rapists and the issue of sustenance of teenage mothers and their child. “The government should institute mental and monetary support for them.”
“We need mental and monetary support,” said Tshering Choden, “teenage mothers face many physical, psychological, social and spiritual challenges. They have a constant need for support and training; they cannot plan and lack decision making and maternal skills, encounter unpredictable situations and significant changes, and face a high risk of pregnancy and birth.”
According to the MP, with depression, anxiety, shock, low self-efficacy, isolation, social stigma and, religious or cultural adverse reaction, inappropriate behaviour of health care providers and family conflicts, the young mothers are suddenly tasked with multiple responsibilities.
A mother-of-two, also an statutory rape victim who gave birth out of rape says: “It is important for the government to look after teenage mothers and their children because if the government can put the rapist or the father of the child into prison for some years, the government must also have the courage to institute funds for the sustenance of the teenage mother.”
“The teenage mother and her child are looked after by her parents or relatives; in my case, it was a burden for them as a low-income family, and this situation is very relatable to many other teenage mothers.”
Sombaykha MP Dorji Wangmo said the government is “provisioning everything for the sustenance of the teenage mothers and their children.”
But when quizzed about what these “provisions” are, she said that with an oversight role as an MP and NA’s Women, Children and Youth Committee, she will “launch further research” and look after the teenage mother’s ante-natal and post-natal provisions.
To be eligible for adoption, the Adoption Act states, ‘an application for adoption of a child may be made by a Bhutanese citizen who: (a) is of good moral character; (b) is financially secure;(c) is not convicted of a crime; (d) is capable of support and care for the child; and (e) is at least 30 years of age and the age difference between the adopting parent and the child to be adopted shall be at least 15 years.
Teenage mothers who relinquish the wish to look after their child must follow the procedures cited in the Child Adoption Act as well.
The process is facilitated through competent agencies such as the NCWC or any other agency designated by the government that shall be the competent authority under this Act.
Meanwhile, a study states that between 2009 and 2020, there were 372 children rape cases, excluding 30 attempts to rape. There were also 158 cases of rape of women and 59 attempted rapes in the country.
According to World Data Atlas that gives world and regional statistics, national data, maps and rankings, ‘in 2013, rape rate for Bhutan was 7.7 cases per 100,000 population. Though Bhutan rape rate fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to increase through the 2009 - 2013 period ending at 7.7 cases per 100,000 population in 2013’.
No solid laws to provide for statutory rape victims and children borne of rape