It was not a week for the youth or the children, but from the frenzy of activities related to youth and children this week, we could as well call it one.
From issues on illegitimate children in Trashigang to reproductive health and teenage pregnancy in Thimphu and the election of the Children’s Parliament, the young have coincidentally come into focus. This is good because quite often, we tend to forget the young. And going by the demographics, more than half the country’s population is in the young category, to be specific, below the age of 25 years. A reason enough to prioritise their issues.
In Thimphu, on the initiative of Her Majesty the Gyalyum, Sangay Choden Wangchuck, a high-level advocacy visit is on. School children are made aware of issues related to reproductive health, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and suicide prevention.
While Her Majesty, president of RENEW and the Goodwill Ambassador of UNFPA led a team in Dechencholing, north Thimphu to interact with students, policy makers were discussing a strategy to reduce the rate of suicide in the country.
As disturbing as it is, the number of people committing suicide are young people. There is a correlation. Health experts attribute teenage pregnancy, mental illness, and substance abuse as the main causes of suicidal tendencies. This makes the advocacy programme all the more relevant.
Students, especially girls during the programme yesterday demanded more counselling and awareness through the mainstream media. This is heartening to hear. Research shows that social stigma remains the major barrier in prevention efforts across the world. Bhutan is no exception. Stigmatising single mothers or young girls conceiving outside marriage make them vulnerable to committing suicide.
If it is the happy go lucky culture in rural Bhutan, economic factors make young girls in urban areas vulnerable to exploitation. We are hearing that it is not only those driving flashy Prados picking up girls from schools but even taxi drivers. Living in the city and studying has become an expensive affair.
The low awareness level among the young women, including schoolgirls, is often attributed as one of the causes of the problem. That is just one side of the problem. We would expect the male population to be more informed if they could realise the repercussions of their actions, rather than boasting about their sexual adventures, a typical Bhutanese man’s attitude.
Meanwhile, in places like Trashigang, even with awareness programmes, children born out of the wedlock is still a problem. Such social nuisance is damaging the life of the mother and the innocent child. With laws becoming stringent, it is becoming even more difficult for the mother and the children. They are deprived of all opportunities and left to fend for themselves.
In Thimphu, the Election Commission of Bhutan yesterday declared the date of the Children’s Parliament election. The Children’s Parliament is expected to provide input to Parliament. We will expect children to raise issues affecting them and influence lawmakers to look into polices and legislation that will address their problems.
The focus on the young population this week, even if coincidental, was a much required coincidence.