by Marlene Affeld on June 23, 2013.
In a country that claims to honor its children, the latest sensational headlines are shameful: Bhutan citizens fear sexual abuse is rampant in monastic schools. An 11-year-old monk told a reporter for The Raven, Bhutan’s monthly news magazine that calls itself the country’s “guardian,” that he had been sexually assaulted multiple times by elder monks at a monastery in Punakha, about 45 miles northeast of the capital city of Thimphu.
June 23, 2013, writing about the scandalous story of sexual abuse of young boys, the Bhutan online newspaper The Raven, told the heart-breaking story. Describing the boy’s report, TR quoted one of the boys as saying, “Every time I tried to scream or struggled, he pinned me with his body, put his hand over my mouth and covered it tightly,” said an 11-year-old boy describing how he was sexually abused by a 20-year-old monk in a remote monastery in Punakha, 45 miles northeast of the capital city of Thimphu. The underage monk said he and his 12-year-old friend at the monastery were asked to come in turns to sleep with the senior monk. Another pathetic pedophile monk, a 60-year-old man, molested not only the two boys, but two other monks, aged nine and 11.”
The frightened boys told authorities that after months of repeated sexual abuse they escaped their caretakers and ran away to their village of Chukha in the southern district of Chuka. After reaching the safety of the village, the boys contacted Sonam Ongmo, editor of The Raven, the newspaper that broke the story. Upon hearing of the boy’s experience, Ongmo immediately reported the case to the government’s National Commission for Women and Children.
Chhoekey Penjor, deputy chief information officer at the Children’s Division of the commission, confirmed the allegations were found to be true and “necessary action was taken.” “I think this sexual abuse in monasteries is something we should look at. It’s very important that people don’t forget: Buddhism and Buddhist are two different entities. Buddhism is perfect. Buddhists are not.” ~ Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
RSN reports, “According to the code of conduct in monasteries, authorities disrobe an erring monk, throw flour on him and chase him away from the monastery – as they did with the 20-year-old monk. However, the 60-year-old monk remains in the monastery, “The Raven” reported. “This is the first time that child sexual abuse among monks has been reported to us,” Penjor said.
She added that the commission had forwarded the case to the monastic body and that her department had helped set up a child protection office. But Lopen Gyembo Dorji, secretary general of the monastic body, said he was not aware of sexual abuse in the monastery.
“The Raven” quoted a doctor at a hospital in Thimphu saying monks with sexual or psychological problems; some showing signs of abuse frequently consult him.
Many have long considered the mystical Himalayas a sacred place of spectacular beauty, a region possessed of a special energy: “The Adobe of the Gods.” Tucked in the bosom of the Himalaya Mountains, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia. Bordered on the east and west by India and on the north by China, Bhutan’s is home to more than 700,000 people sequestered by time and tradition in a country half the size of the State of Indiana.
UNICEF reports, “ The child is at the heart of Bhutan’s development. Children receive high priority in Bhutan, guided by the King of Bhutan who has declared, “The future of our nation lies in the hands of our children.” Bhutan was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and has since been investing steadily in service to benefit children. The government allocated more than 26 per cent of its resources in 1999 to the social sector.”
Bhutan is the world’s only official Buddhist Country. The “Red Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan. The Guardian UK reports, “The Buddhist faith is tightly woven into the fabric of Bhutan’s fiercely protected national identity. Monks are still revered by large sections of the population and for many remain an integral part of everyday life, performing birth and death rituals and presiding over prayers at national holidays.”
Since the 16th Century, brightly colored prayer flags have marked the location of Buddhist monasteries. Today there are more than 1000 monastic orders scattered throughout the hills of the kingdom. The monasteries provide a home and education for more than 4,000 of the country’s poorest children. The children, sent to the monks by families to poor to afford textbooks the uniforms mandated by government schools. Bhutan has approximately 388 monastic schools with 5,149 nuns and 7,240 monks. Officially, the monasteries are only supposed to accept children seven years and older. In reality, they often shelter younger children with nowhere else to live.
Sadly, for many of these children, rather than a sanctuary, the monasteries are a “house of horror.” Living conditions within the monasteries are basic as the monks can barely afford to feed and house the wards in their care. The children sleep on roll-up mats on the floor; scabies and lice infestations are common.
March 13, 2013, Religious News Service reported, ““We are making condoms freely available everywhere, even in monastic schools and colleges,” Bhutan’s minister of health, Zangley Drukpa, said in a phone interview. The ministry, he added, has formed a special action group to deal with STDs in monasteries.
Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily”. The health ministry got concerned when a dozen monks — including a 12-year-old — were diagnosed with sexual transmitted diseases a year later, Kuensel reports. At least five monks are known to be HIV-positive, the youngest being 19.”
In an ongoing litany of scandal and disgrace the monks of Bhutan continued to perpetuate acts that focused international attention on the tiny kingdom. In February 2011 Scoop News reported, “A Buddhist Monk in Bhutan has been arrested for smuggling tobacco into the country. Tobacco based products have been illegal in Bhutan since 2005. Jigm Dorji, a state sponsored Buddhist Monk was found with two kilos of tobacco and was arrested for possession with intent to supply. The minimum sentence for this crime is five years.
Dorji is said to be quite pleased with sentence. ‘He has a five foot square cell in which to sleep at his monastery high in the mountains,’ said a close friend. “In prison he’ll have a ten foot square cell all to himself, with a mattress and a television.”
n October 2012 the Tibet Telegraph published an editorial about an incident of sexual abuse involving a monk that rock the world. The TT reported, “The Rape of Kalu Rinpoche writing, “In October 2011, a famous and highly-respected reincarnate Tibetan Buddhist master, Kalu Rinpoche, posted a Youtube video in which he reveals the abuse he suffered as a young monk at the hands of adult monks in his monastery. Rinpoche’s allegations caused shockwaves within the Tibetan Buddhist community (particularly his western students). Since that time, I have not heard any Tibetan Buddhist teacher (especially those connected with Kalu Rinpoche) publicly respond to his allegations, let alone suggest there be a formal investigation and those responsible brought to account. One can only hope Kalu Rinpoche’s video exposure of this serious issue has not gone to waste and been brushed under the carpet in the hope that people might forget about it. Rinpoche recently gave an interview in which he details the rape he suffered:
Kalu says that when he was in his early teens, he was sexually abused by a gang of older monks who would visit his room each week. When I bring up the concept of “inappropriate touching,” he laughs edgily. This was hard-core sex, he says, including penetration. “Most of the time, they just came alone,” he says. “They just banged the door harder, and I had to open. I knew what was going to happen, and after that you become more used to it.” It wasn’t until Kalu returned to the monastery after his three-year retreat that he realized how wrong this practice was. By then the cycle had begun again on a younger generation of victims, he says. Kalu’s claims of sexual abuse mirror those of Lodoe Senge, an ex-monk and 23-year-old tulku who now lives in Queens, New York. “When I saw the video,” Senge says of Kalu’s confessions, “I thought, ‘[banned term], this guy has the balls to talk about it when I didn’t even have the courage to tell my girlfriend.’” Senge was abused, he says, as a 5-year-old by his own tutor, a man in his late twenties, at a monastery in India.
If that weren’t bad enough, Kalu Rinpoche’s former incarnation was himself accused of sexually exploiting June Campbell, his former female student and translator.”
Hopefully the latest scandal will focus renewed attention on the growing problem of sex abuse in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Because Buddhist monks answer to no outside ecclesiastical authority, the temples respond to allegations as they see fit. Because the monks are viewed as free agents, temples claim to have no way of controlling what they do in the future. Bhutan’s Buddhist monks have broken their vow of celibacy.
By: Marlene Affeld