Main story: With the introduction of democracy clubs in schools and education institutions, students are equipped with idea to conduct elections, organise events and activities to promote understanding of the country’s electoral system and processes, democratic governance and institutions, and also participate in decision-making processes.
With the Bhutan Children’s Parliament (BCP) established and the Constitution of BCP signed on June 2, 2015, students of the democracy clubs are now further able to polish their leadership skills and learn about democracy.
In September last year, a total of 4,132 members of democracy clubs voted 293 candidates in the first ever BCP elections held nationwide. The elections were held for 20 BCP-National Council (NC) and 43 BCP-National Assembly (NA) constituencies last year.
At the Joint Sitting last Friday, the BCP passed 21 resolutions at the Democracy House in Thimphu. The members endorsed the need for sex education in schools to prevent teenage pregnancy, to make Dzongkha a compulsory subject from pre-primary to class XII, to extend counselling classes and to establish youth centres in every dzongkhags among others.
The Article 9 of The Constitution of BCP states that the proceedings of the BCP sessions shall be submitted to His Majesty The King, Chief Justice, the Speaker of Parliament, Prime Minister, Chairperson of the National Council and the Opposition Leader.
The BCP is an apex body of democracy clubs in the country. It functions like a Parliament where the members discuss pertinent issues.
Member of Parliament from Wangdue, Thinley Jamtsho, 18, studying in Gaselo Central School, said BCP is unique.
“We get to experience how the real sessions of the Parliament takes place and we understand the level of commitment and importance it carries,” Thinley Jamtsho said. “Our main responsibility is to shed light on youth issues that do not reach the parliamentary sessions and help address them.”
Thinley Jamtsho said that there is no need for dedicated organisation and agencies that concerns youth issues so long as BCP is there.
“Since BCP comprises of youth, we are in a better position to address youth issues, which is wider than substance abuse and alcohol consumption,” Thinley Jamtsho said.
Speaker of BCP, representing Draagten Lhangthil demkhong, Tsheten Dorji, 22, studying in Institute of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS), said BCP is there not only to address some of the pertinent issues facing the youth, but also how such issues impact the country as a whole. “Our responsibility is also to address the issues faced by not only the school going children but also the illiterate children, and how our resolutions could improve and change their lives.”
Member of Parliament from Bumthang, Kinley Zam Chapel, 16, studying in Jakar Higher Secondary School, said improvement in participation has been seen among girls in the two sessions. There were a total of 21 girls participating in the second session from the 17 in the first session.
“Participating in the BCP, I can see how girls are willing to raise their voices and issues that concern them. Today, the girl participants are confident and it is something we should be proud of,” Kinley Zam Chapel said.
When Kinley Zam Chapel initially participated during the sessions, she was nervous and forgot most of the points she had to make.
“Today, I am not scared to speak in front of people anymore. I am confident and by participating in BCP, it has helped me improve my public speaking skills,” Kinley Zam Chapel said. “I also feel a sense of achievement knowing the fact that we can bring a positive impact on young people’s lives.”
Before participating in BCP, Kinley Zam Chapel thought that politics was a self-serving job. “But after participating in BCP, I have become the ambassador of democracy. I know the efforts and dedication it takes to raise issues concerning the nation. I now understand the procedures that are needed when putting up any agenda.”
Member of Parliament from Punakha, Kuenzang Dema, 18, studying in Punakha Central School, said she spent her winter holidays well by participating in BCP.
“I learnt how politicians work, what kind of discussions they do, how to conduct those discussions and the beauty of democracy, which I would not have learnt had I stayed back at home,” Kuenzang Dema said. “I learnt how to approach and address views and issues concerning the youth, and the skills needed to address the issue.”
Kuenzang Dema always thought that substance abuse and suicide were the only issues that concerned the youth but she learnt that there were many more pertinent issues that need to be addressed. “Once I am back in my home in Punakha, I plan to teach my friends about what I have learnt in BCP and the importance of understanding what democracy is, which is only to benefit the people of the country.”
Kuenzang Dema said she admires the hard work put in by other participants and the support shown during challenging times.
NC Chairperson of BCP, Dorji Tenzin, 21, studying in ILCS, said there is a misconception and even criticism that BCP has the authority to make the final decision.
“BCP’s sole responsibility is to help the younger generation understand what democracy by giving hands-on experience, which is very important now that our country is in its eighth year as a constitutional democracy,” Dorji Tenzin said.
BCP has been established to take the democracy clubs further by giving the children an opportunity to improve their leadership skills, learn to voice out their ideas, thoughts and feelings, Dorji Tenzin said.
“During the orientation sessions, we learn mainly the electoral process and public speaking skills by raising youth issues. It doesn’t mean what we deliberate have to be implemented. BCP is a bridge between government and youth, and also has the responsibility to highlight youthw issues that are not yet addressed by the government,” Dorji Tenzin said.
Dorji Tenzin wanted to participate after he initially heard of BCP in 2015. Since he’s passionate about addressing youth issues and participate in youth-related programmes, he thought BCP was perfect for him.
After participating in the democracy club in ILCS last year, he was elected as NC nominee because of his public speaking skills. Later, he was elected among the other nominees from the democracy club.
“I was scared for the first time on how to go about with BCP. With the weeklong orientation sessions, all my doubts were addressed,” Dorji Tenzin said. “I feel like I am an election officer with an added responsibility. Now I make a point to help young people like myself understand about democracy, the sessions and agenda that are conducted, and the electoral process as a whole,” Dorji Tenzin said.
Dorji Tenzin plans to open a student’s club to give a platform to students to discuss issues concerning the college and the youth as a whole. “I also plan to go to nearby schools and disseminate information about BCP.”