(RNS) The South Asian nation of Bhutan has been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal in which young Buddhist monks molested by older monks fled their monastery and reported the abuse to journalists.
While rumors about child sexual abuse in monasteries have swirled around this tiny Buddhist nation for a while, this is the first time confirmed cases of underage monks molested by their seniors have come to the fore.
“Every time I tried to scream or struggled, he pinned me with his body, put his hand over my mouth and covered it tightly,” an 11-year-old boy told the magazine “The Raven,” describing how he was sexually abused by a 20-year-old monk in a monastery in Punakha, about 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 pedophile monk, a 60-year-old man, molested not only the two boys, but two other monks, aged nine and 11.
Months after facing regular abuse at the monastery, the two boys fled last summer to their village in the southwestern district of Chukha, where they met with Sonam Ongmo, editor of the “The Raven,” which published the story and 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.”
The “Red Hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan, a nation of about 700,000 people in the Himalayas between India and China.
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 he is often visited by monks with psychological or sexual problems, some showing signs of abuse.
Kinley Tshering, a former newspaper editor, said “muffled voices” about sexual abuse in monastic communities had been there “for quite some time now.”
Sexually transmitted infections and HIV have been reported among young monks, and health officials make condoms available to monastic schools.
A 2009 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.
A year later, at least a dozen monks, including some who were underage, were diagnosed with STIs, and at least five monks were known to be HIV positive.
On April 10, three monks from Bhutan, aged between 21 and 24, were arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in the Kalimpong town of West Bengal in neighboring India.