It is said that a society can be judged, among others, by the way it treats its children. If available and reported data on violence against children is any indication of the way we treat them, we have not done well in performing one of the most basic responsibilities of any guardian  – protecting children from harm. 

For children and young people, violence wears a familiar face. In most cases, children are abused by someone they know and interact with every day. And this happens in places that are considered safe for children or in places thought to be the safest – homes and schools. 

From neglect of basic care to emotional, physical and sexual abuse, children in Bhutan experience all forms of violence. As more children and youth spend more time online, we have begun to see an emergence of online violence.

Violence against children is both pervasive and complex. Here, it is also considered sensitive, not so much because of the sensitivities towards the child who survived the violence but because of the cultural taboos and embarrassment the rest of us are  afraid to talk about . It is for these reasons that child abuse do not receive the priority it demands. 

The lack of information and data on the prevalence of violence against children indicates how grave the issue is.  If we are under reporting child abuse cases,  we have normalised stigma around violence against children. We hardly talk about it as an issue or a problem. The silence we maintain as a family and society around violence against children is a loud declaration of our apathy towards one of the biggest risks facing children and young people. 

But amid all the complexities and challenges, we still have the leadership, the political will and a system, which if strengthened would help protect our children from all forms of abuse. 

Violence against children is preventable and if we choose to act on it, we can prevent it. Sadly, our policies, which have always remained strong on paper, do not result in an empowered and informed society. With little or no information and discourse on the situation of violence against children and the consequences of abuse, the issue for many becomes a non-issue. 

Addressing these challenges would help protect our children. During the pandemic and lockdowns, gender-based violence was referred to as the shadow pandemic. The pandemic revealed that it was not in the “shadows” but right in-front of us and a visible reality for one too many. 

As the country undergoes a transformation, changing the way we learn, think, work and live, it is time we relook at the realities facing us and our children. It is time we do not tolerate any form of violence against children. And the time is now.