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Sexual Violence in Bhutan

Protection gaps in rape laws and barriers to accessing justice continue to lead to effective denial of justice for survivors of sexual violence in South Asia, including in Bhutan.

There were 49 reported rape cases in Bhutan in 2018, rising to 54 in 2019, with 48 cases of rape against children reported in 2019. 

The Law Relating to Sexual Violence in Bhutan 

Definitions of Sexual Violence

  • The law has a wide definition of rape which includes “any act of sexual intercourse whatever its nature”.
  • Bhutanese law provides for the offense of custodial rape, wherein consent to the sexual intercourse by a person in “custody” is immaterial, and the punishment provided is the same as the punishment for rape. However, it does not explicitly recognize any other circumstances of rape by an individual in a position of authority.
  • The law in Bhutan only recognizes situations where the victim was intoxicated by the perpetrator without her consent or where the perpetrator rendered the victim unconscious. It does not explicitly recognize all situations where the victim is incapable of providing consent where the perpetrator did not cause such incapacity.

Marital Rape

  • Marital rape is explicitly criminalized in all circumstances. However, it is only considered a petty misdemeanor with far lower penalties than rape.
  • Marital rape of children is criminalized.

Laws Requiring/Permitting Discriminatory or Overly Burdensome Evidence

While Bhutanese law states that evidence of past sexual behavior is not generally relevant in sexual violence cases, the exceptions are so broad as to defeat the purpose of the main provision.

Other Discriminatory/Problematic Legal Provisions

Bhutanese law provides for payment of compensation (“gao”) to the husband in cases where a married woman is raped (in addition to payment of compensation to the survivor). This discriminatory provision treats the wife as the property of her husband and is based on archaic and patriarchal notions of chastity, the “lack” of which offends the honor of her husband and therefore warrants some payment to offset her fall in value.

Barriers to Accessing Justice Within the Criminal Justice System

In addition to a review of the rape laws, through interviews with survivors of sexual violence and stakeholders, our report found that survivors of sexual violence face many obstacles in accessing justice.

Some of these obstacles include:

  • social stigma and prevailing public attitudes towards sexual violence which contribute to low levels of reporting in sexual violence cases,
  • limited understanding of legal processes amongst the public,
  • delays in court proceedings,
  • lack of confidence and trust in the court system, and
  • difficulties in accessing support services for survivors including compensation and confidential medical services and many others.

Conviction Rates in Rape cases

The conviction rate in rape cases in Bhutan between 2009 and 2020 was 64%, though this data is from a low reporting base. 

The information on this page is derived from Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, jointly published by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International in April 2021.