Bhutanese children still vulnerable to violence

Alcohol abuse was found to be one of the main contributing factors 

VAC: Despite notable legislations and policies to protect children against violence, child marriage and different forms of abuse and trafficking issues continue to affect children in Bhutan.

National Commission for Women and Children’s (NCWC) phase II of the violence against children study, a qualitative assessment completed this year, show that children in Bhutan face protection issues ranging from early marriage, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, mobility and trafficking, exploitation including child labour, neglect by parents and other caregivers, besides bullying by their peers in schools and communities.

Presenting the findings of the study on the situation of child protection in Bhutan, NCWC’s chief of children division Choeki Penjore said that children look for support for protection from parents, extended family members, teachers and counsellors. “They also look at their friends for means of support besides community leaders and religious leaders as well,” she said.

Choeki Penjore said that prior to the study, people had some form of idea on the issues that caused violence against children. “Now with the study, we have evidence that some of the ideas were wrong but some of the issues that we felt contributed towards violence were indeed the contributing factors,” she said.

One of the biggest factors that lead to violence against children as identified by children and adults who participated in the study was alcohol abuse by adults. However, Choeki Penjore said that alcohol couldn’t be used as an excuse always for causing violence but rather as increasing the risk of violence.

Other risks and factors include substance abuse by older children that made the younger ones more vulnerable to protection issues particularly emotional and physical violence. The study also found that children who dropped out of school and were not attending school were more vulnerable.

The study highlighted that traditional and cultural beliefs and practices contributed hugely to violence against children, such as the belief of karma among adults who blame karma for violence against children.

Social expectations of parents and children, exposure to violence, divorce and restructuring of families and poverty are also some of the risks and factors that contribute to violence against children.

Such issues of violence against children and contributing factors are however not unique to Bhutan. With more than 700 million children in South Asia constituting about 35 percent of the world’s poor, children are subject to problems that make them more vulnerable to violence in different settings.

South Asian children experience violence at home, in schools, in care and judicial systems and institutions, at workplaces and within their communities. They are more prone to violence because of poverty, caste, ethnicity, religious beliefs and disabilities which prevents children from accessing necessary child protection and social welfare services and harmful traditional practices like early marriage.

These issues were highlighted yesterday at the national orientation workshop on violence against children for National Action and Coordinating Group (NACG) Bhutan for ending violence against children.

Youth Development Fund’s (YDF) vice-president HRH Princess Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck graced the opening ceremony. About 30 participants including parliament members and from civil society organisations are attending the two-day workshop organised by NACG Bhutan with support from SAIEVAC and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

YDF’s executive director Dorji Ohm said that protection of children should not be a sole responsibility of a single agency but a shared community responsibility. “In the land of happiness, every child should enjoy the fundamental rights,” she said. “One country at least in South Asia should be a child’s paradise so that others can be inspired and follow suit.”

NCWC officials said that the communities play an important and integral part of the child protection system to ensure that all children are protected at all levels right from policy making to the national level.

There are three women and child protection units and six women and child protection unit desks under the police across the country today. By the end of the 11th Plan, it is expected that the police would extend this network in all the 20 dzongkhags.

As per the Bhutan population and housing census 2005, about 40 percent or 294,334 of the population are under the age of 19.

Kinga Dema

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