English | Dzongkha Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mixed reactions on lowering Age of Consent

Samten Dolkar/ Bureaus, BBS
Jun 8, 2019

Even after much deliberation, the National Assembly could not reach a consensus on the age of consent at 16 yesterday. As per the Penal Code Amendment Act of Bhutan 2011, the age of consent for sexual acts is 18 years of age.

The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity. The person below the minimum age is regarded as the victim and their sex partner is regarded as the offender unless both are underage.

The reducing of legal age of sexual consent at 16 from 18 under the penal code Amendment bill of Bhutan 2019 received various debates in the house. The National Law Review Taskforce recommended reducing the age of consent. The legislative committee of the lower house then presented two recommendations in the house yesterday.

The first one stated that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape if the defendant commits any act of sexual acts against a child between the ages of 12 to 16 years. However, consensual sex between children of sixteen years and above shall not be deemed to be rape.

They also presented the second recommendation stating that the defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above 12 years if the defendant commits any act of sexual act against a child between ages of 12 to 18 years. However, consensual sex between persons of above 16 years shall not be deemed to be rape provided that their age difference is not more than three years.

The committee proposed the new age limit as a means to help youths especially the young fathers who are criminalised and are in prison.

Few members of parliament however shared their concerns, disagreements and their views over the former recommendation.

 “We are all parents. It is not that we are supporting women and not men. All are our children. But If today, if the age of consent is reduced to 16, over 100 boys who are in prison can be taken out but like I said earlier, in trying to solve one problem, we should also think about how risky the decision will be,” Tshering Chhoden, MP for Khar_Yurung, said.

“The reason for not supporting this proposal is because we are here to make a uniform law. If today we change both the proposals, it will not be in accordance with our law where till 18 years of age is considered a minor. Today, not allowing them to vote and requiring adult guidance while presenting oneself in the court are all because they are minor. It will be shameful in front of other countries. And thirdly as a doctor, there is a risk to a girl. Younger the age, more risk of cervical cancer, infection and teenage pregnancy,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said.

 Many debates also arose over the second recommendation. While Dramedtse_Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi suggested the gap be reduced to two years, few said reducing of penalty for those involved in consensual sex would solve the issue.

“The punishment is very stringent. For a mistake made out of a small decision, putting them behind the bar for 9 and 12 years is very harsh. We should think about it. Even if they are punished, it should be a little lenient,” Pema Jamtsho (PhD), the Opposition Leader said.

BBS also talked with people on this issue.

“I feel that sixteen years is too less.  During our time, it is fine but now a sixteen-year-old girl would not know anything. Even at the age 0f 24 and 25, children these days are still innocent. I actually feel eighteen years is also less for a girl,” Rinchen Peldon, from Tashigang, said.

“I think eighteen is the right age because, at sixteen, they would be in high schools. Eighteen is better,” Dechen Choden, also from Tashigang agreed.

“There are few who willingly marry before the age and have children as well. I don’t see much problem with it. However, if the age of consent is reduced from eighteen to sixteen, people will have a mindset that it is fine to marry at an early age,” Tsheshey from Gelegphu, added.

“If the age of consent is reduced from eighteen to sixteen, I don’t know about the advantages, but there will be so many problems that will arise from it.” Kelzang Dendup, from Gelegphu, added.

“I feel the age of consent should not be reduced to sixteen. It should be kept as before. Sixteen years is too young and a girl will be innocent at that age,” Phurba Dorji, also from Gelephu, agreed.

“If the age of consent is reduced to 16 years, they will be innocent and won’t know anything. They won’t be ready to carry any responsibilities including the father.  This would also affect their contribution towards the development and policy of the country. Therefore eighteen is the most convenient,” Kinley, from Wangdue Phodrang said.

Whether it is eighteen or sixteen, I feel it is their willingness that we should look at. If it is a rape, then it is a different case. Until now, even if a girl marries at the age of sixteen on her will, the father is taken into custody and this is a serious issue,” Sonam Dorji, from Thimphu, shared.

“I feel it is better to keep the age of consent at eighteen years. When consent age is reduced, there will be many problems. At sixteen, they will be innocent to understand anything and there are high chances of divorce. However, by eighteen I feel they are matured enough to understand, what they are doing,” Dorji Lham, also from Thimphu added.

“I don’t find any problem in reducing the age of consent to 16 as many of the youths nowadays are already spoiled from the early age of 14 to 16. I think the reduced age of consent will help the youths,” said Phub Dorji, from Phuntshogling.

For now, the house directed the legislative committee to further review the clause on the age of consent. The amendment bill will be put for a vote on Monday next week.

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