A 12-year-old girl gave birth to a baby boy in Bhutan last week The incident created a social storm in the small Himalayan country.
A 12-year-old girl gave birth to a baby boy last week in the Samdrup Jongkhar region of eastern Bhutan, triggering a social storm in the small Himalayan country. A local administrator from Wangfu Gewog reported that the girl’s family kept the pregnancy a secret and quietly arranged a home birth. “But the family now claim they were unaware of the pregnancy,” the administrator said on condition of anonymity. Teachers at the local school, where the girl studied, also said they didn’t know. We find this strange.
The local administrator said the administration learned when the child was taken to the Wangfu Basic Health Unit (BHU), which informed officials of the “Gewog” (village group). Gevog alerted the police, who arrested a 35-year-old man about it. The schoolgirl turned mother claimed he raped her. As a result of a central compilation, the Bhutan government’s Gewog records reported 237 cases of child pregnancies in 18 “dzongkhag” (administrative subdivisions) in 2020 alone.
“The actual annual incidence of teenage pregnancies is much higher”
Data for Ha and Tsirung Jongkhag were not available. The largest number of cases were reported in Thimphu (55), followed by Chukha (30) and Trashigung (20). Officials and social workers suspect that the actual annual incidence of teenage pregnancies may be much higher because most families do not report it. A review of Bhutanese reports shows that in 2020, the small Himalayan nation of around 8 lakhs recorded 33 cases of rape of children over 12 and five cases of children under 12.
The attorney general’s office documented 37 cases of rape of children over 12 in 2020. Bhutan health ministry officials were hesitant when asked about the matter. RENEW, a Bhutanese non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of women and children, said in its report that the system for protecting children, whether at home, at school or in public places, is vulnerable. “Most teenage pregnancies have been reported due to neglect by parents and caregivers, as most babies are not known until late stages,” an official said.
“Few teachers take cases of sexual harassment seriously”
“Some parents and guardians also try to hide child pregnancies for fear of social stigma and negative reactions from neighbors,” the official said. A leading social activist pointed out that only a few dedicated health officials and teachers take cases of child sexual harassment and abuse seriously. He said that although some teachers take the matter seriously and report the matter to the police, most resolve it mutually to protect the reputation and image of the school.
“It is totally against the law and no one has the right to work out mutual problems but it happens quite often,” said the social activist. There are cases where minors, allegedly raped by their caregivers or family members, have spoken to the school counselor, but the principal resolved the issue by mutual agreement. The social worker said, “There is no accountability. An organization official said that when a child goes to hospital after being sexually assaulted, health officials fear that reporting such cases to the police will discourage the child from seeking medical services. health.
There are laws to protect children
“Although the case is criminal, most health officials are not reporting it,” the official said. We are grateful to those who do this. Teenage pregnancy and sexual assault of children are considered offenses under the Bhutanese Penal Code. There are other laws to protect children. But there are gaps in the standard operating procedures (SOPs) on gender-based violence.