English | Dzongkha Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Harsher punishment for rape, Joint Sitting of the Parliament

Dec 10, 2020

Discussing the disputed clauses in the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019, today, the Parliament decided for harsher punishment for rape. The Joint Committee on Penal Code of Bhutan made the recommendations to the Joint Sitting of the Parliament.  

The joint sitting increased the grading of rape from fourth to a third-degree felony that is five to nine years prison term. Similarly, grading of rape of a married person and pregnant woman has been increased to a third-degree felony. Also, the gang rape including the gang rape of a pregnant woman now falls under the felony of second degree that with nine to 15 years prison term.

The Joint Committee recommended that the grading of rape shall be a felony of the third degree. The original clause states that the offence of rape shall be a felony of the fourth degree.

To this, the Bartsham Shongphu’s Member of Parliament (MP) questioned the basis of increasing such grading. The Chairperson of the Joint Committee shared that it is important to increase the grading because, in about a decade, over 370 child rape cases and more than 150 woman rape cases were reported. Similarly, the attempt to rape cases of child and woman were 30 and 59 respectively in the same period.

“As per the country’s report, in writing from the OAG to the cabinet and as per the law in other counties related to rape cases, we decided to increase the grading,” said Ugyen Namgay, the Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Penal Code of Bhutan.

Majority of the members supported the committee’s recommendation to increase the grading.

”The law for burglary and rape is same so we really need to think 100 per cent and take a decision. if we increase the penalty, will it end the rape case in the country? We don’t know but let’s try,” said Dechen Wangmo, the Health Minister.

”We need to know whether the rape is tolerable or not if it’s intolerable and it’s considered a grave crime then the offence needs to be severe. However, if we say that the penalty for rape offence should not be increased then we are somehow encouraging the crime and this will directly affect the society,” supported Nima, the Bumthang’s member of parliament (MP) in the National Council.

However, some members were against the recommendation.

“Let’s say it is consensual sex between two individuals. However later if an outside person influences one of the two persons to register a rape case against the other, it is not fair, especially with the increased grading. People would then question the existence of Gross National Happiness in the country,” refuted Ugyen Wangdi, the Dramedtse Ngatshang’s MP.

‘Whether the prison term is four or five years, we should see if the person is repeating the same offence again after serving the time. If there is an increase in such cases then it’s an indication that the penalty is not enough, then the prison term should be increased,” added Kinga Penjor, the Gangzur Minjey’s MP.

According to the recommendations by the committee, the rape of a pregnant woman should be increased to the felony of the second degree if the fetus is harmed as a direct result of rape. Similarly, if gang rape of a pregnant woman harms the fetus as a direct result of rape, it will be the first-degree felony.

Under the grading of statutory rape or rape of a child below 12 years, it is the first-degree felony with 15 to life imprisonment. The committee today recommended that it will be life imprisonment should the offender be in authority of the child or on whom the child is dependent or in a relationship that is exploitive of the child.

After a thorough discussion on all the recommendations of the Joint Committee, the Joint Sitting adopted the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019 with 63 Yes and six abstaining out of the 69 members present and voting.

The House also decriminalised homosexuality between adults while deliberating on unnatural sex.

Kinley Dem/Kelzang Choden/Pema Seldon Tshering

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