Report: Alcohol is one of the significant direct triggers of violence against children in Bhutan.

The National Commission for Women and Children’s (NCWC) report, Research On Violence Against Children in Bhutan, states that besides economic status, and social norms and traditional practices, alcohol abuse is one of the drivers of violence against children in Bhutan.

Alcohol abuse by parents and guardians increases children’s vulnerability to violence, NCWC’s programme officer, Ugyen Wangchuk said  during NCWC’s national consultation on violence against children: Identifying priorities for action, at the banquet hall in Thimphu, yesterday.

He said that a parent or stepparent who is alcoholic might spend the household income on alcohol. Some adults’ alcohol addictions are severe enough that they are unable to work, which at times results in children quitting school to provide their family with an income.

Similarly, drug abuse by children causes them to engage in violent behavior and increases their vulnerability to abuse and violence, he said.

According to the report, traditional beliefs and practices also provoke different forms of violence against children, from the belief in karma and the acceptance of light beatings as an appropriate means of disciplining a child to the cultural practice of night hunting.

“Adults also have certain social expectations of children, primarily to be good and well mannered and will resort to physical and emotional violence when these expectations are not met,” the report states. Also, parents who experienced physical, emotional or sexual harm as children are more likely to use violence against their own children.

According to the report, divorce is among the most significant risk factors and several sources of vulnerability, which increase the possibility that children will experience violence.

The study participants reported that stepparents often favour their biological children over their stepchildren and might perceive stepchildren as a financial burden, resulting in physical or emotional violence towards the stepchild.

Economic status is another driver of violence against children in the country.

Ugyen Wangchuk said that poverty is the broader socioeconomic context in which many children experience violence. Poverty intensifies factors such as feeling unloved and not being able to supervise their children, among others.

Poor academic performance or being a slow learner, being differently-abled and being shy are also factors that increase a child’s vulnerability to violence. This is because  differently-abled children are often unable to physically defend themselves or verbally protest against the violence.

Civil society organisation representatives working for the welfare of differently-abled children reported that these children are frequently locked in a room with little or no care until their parents return from work in the evening, states the report. “Girls with mental disabilities are considered at particular risk of sexual violence.”

Ugyen Wangchuk said that a child’s sex and age are additional risk factors for certain types of violence. For instance, girls are more at risk of sexual violence and younger children are more at risk of physical violence.

An official with NCWC said that the findings and the recommendations of the study, if implemented effectively, would have a significant impact on promoting protection of children in the country. “It is important that the findings and recommendations are widely shared and discussed.”

The two-day consultation is carried out to share the findings of the violence against children in the country with a diverse group of stakeholders. It is also to discuss, review, adapt and prioritise the recommendations of the research that is to be incorporated into the national strategy and the National Plan of Action for Child Protection.

More than 80 officials with civil society organisations, education ministry, Royal Bhutan Police, UNICEF, policy makers, sector heads and specialists, children and young people, among others, participated in the two-day consultation meeting that will end today.

Dechen Tshomo