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Kiba – Bhutan

This story was shared as part of the launch of Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, co-authored by Equality Now and Dignity Alliance International. This story is anonymous and the name Kiba is a pseudonym.

I got married at a very young age when I was in fifth grade, and my late husband was 11 years older than me. My sister manipulated me into marrying him, saying that he would take care of me for the rest of my life.

I only started having my period after intercourse with him began. It was very painful and I had no idea what was happening to my body. If I had understood, I would have stopped my late husband, who saw me as an easy target. I didn’t know what was happening to me was statutory rape, or what to do about my situation.

After my late husband died, another man began pursuing me. My parents suggested I marry him as they thought I was still young. I rejected him several times but he continued to contact me and visit my home. One day he forced me into having sex. It was not consensual but I wasn’t sure who to reach out to for help. After that incident, I felt guilty, and I couldn’t face him or my family.

When it comes to deciding whether to report a case, I think it depends entirely upon the individual survivor and their decision should be respected. I wanted to report my case to the police, but another part of me was worried about what would happen to the perpetrator if I did this.

I was also embarrassed and convinced that people would end up blaming me. But people who blame the victims – who say we were asking for it, or comment on what we wear – need to understand that sexual violence is not about sex, it is about power and control.

Although I haven’t reported to the police, I believe some officers discriminate based on your wealth or class. I think going through a legal system in Bhutan can be incredibly exhausting and triggering as victims have to explain the incident in great detail. It can also be inaccessible to those who cannot afford to pursue cases or hire a private lawyer. Still, I am thankful that the legal system exists for those who decide to follow that path.

In the end, I reported my case to RENEW, which helped me cope with my trauma. I have been working there for five years as a weaving instructor. I’m now training to be a tailor at RENEW, I’m very happy for this opportunity and love coming here to learn.

There are a lot of things I would like to do, but since I am the sole earner for my family I have to weave in my spare time to earn as much as I can to give my children a good life. I get back and joint pain from weaving, but I never let my son and daughter know that I am having a hard time.

I often advise my children not to get married young and to focus on their studies. My sister and parents thought it was normal to get married at an early age. When I think about it now, it really scares me. I want everyone who thinks statutory rape is any different from any other rape to look back at when they were thirteen or fourteen.