Bhutan remains committed to the establishment of institutional mechanisms for child participation and development of an effective and comprehensive child protection system to prevent child abuse, foreign minister Damcho Dorji said.

He was addressing the participants of the cross-regional meeting focusing on the elimination and prevalence of violence against children in Thimphu yesterday.

Lyonpo said that such a system was necessary to address child labour, early marriage, sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking and corporal punishment.

“In Bhutan, we remain fully committed to establishing and institutionalising an effective and sustainable child protection system.”

Several initiatives, he said, have been taken over the past years.

The establishment of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) in 2004 with the mandate to promote and protect the rights of children is reflective of the high level of commitment by the government.

“We’ll strengthen our efforts to eliminate abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and address the risk factors for violence in children’s lives.”

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that central management information system (CMIS) has been established. The CMIS links case management across all service providers and key stakeholders both in the government and civil society organisations, to make service provision better coordinated and more effective and timely.

“It serves as the main repository for data on children in difficult circumstances and children in conflict with the law,” he said.

Other facilities for the benefit of children include women and children protection units/desks across 11 district police stations, one stop crisis centre was established at the national referral hospital in 2010, and a family and child bench at Thimphu dzongkhag court in 2017.

He added that a toll free helpline using the regional number 1098 would be launched in October this year coinciding with the International Day of the Girl Child.

“The helpline will provide 24/7 services to children in need of care and support and besides instant counselling will provide immediate referrals to service providers.”

Lyonpo said that besides recognising and being party to various declarations and programs of action at the international level, Bhutan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) in 1981; the Convention on the Rights of the Child in (CRC) 1990 and its two Optional Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in 2009.

The three-day cross regional meeting, which began yesterday is held for the first time in the country.

Over 35 representatives from various global and regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including representatives from NCWC and Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) are attending the meeting.

This year, special emphasis will be provided on issues such as children’s protection from harmful practices, including child marriage and on the role the community and religious leaders can play in addressing social norms that condone violence against children.

NCWC’s director, Kunzang Lhamu, said that the meeting would also focus on the prevention and elimination of violence against children and would explore building on existing work and identifying strategies to accelerate progress in protecting children from all forms of violence.

She added that the key area of focus would be the achievements and challenges faced in implementing the recommendations of the United Nations study on violence against children and the status of progress on the violence-related targets of 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

“In Bhutan, we are at a critical juncture and concerted efforts are being made by all stakeholders, governments, and NGOs alike to translate legislations, policies, guidelines, and standard operating procedure into actions,” Kunzang Lhamu said.

The United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Office for South Asia’s Regional Director, Jean Gough, said that South Asia has the 4th highest rate of deaths of children due to collective violence.

She added that the children in the region continue to face the threat of recruitment into armed groups. “Although we know that birth registration is one of the key mechanisms to protect children, only 60 percent of children under the age of 5 have their births registered.”

Next year marks the 30th anniversary for CRC.  The UN General Assembly will host its first overall review of the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development including the SDG target 16.2 on ending all forms of violence against children.

The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children (UN SRSG-VAC), the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) Regional Secretariat and NCWC organised the meeting.

Phurpa Lhamo