In the last four months, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) received 242 calls related to women and children after the pilot-testing and operation of the helpline toll-free number 1098 in July this year.

NCWC director, Kunzang Lhamu, said 57 calls were received through the helpline during office hours and 185 voice messages were received during off-hours.

She said domestic violence, sexual abuse and molestation and abandonment of women and children were reported through the helpline. “There are also queries on adoption procedures and seeking of legal advice and guidance.”

The director said that despite much advancement, there are still areas for improvement in Bhutan when it comes to the status of women.

In the education sector, she said that the learning achievements of girls especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects, creating a gender-responsive learning environment and building the self-confidence of girls are needed.

“In the area of health, there is a need for targeted nutrition interventions to address anemia and stunting, stepping up adolescent reproductive and sexual health interventions, curbing teenage pregnancies, early marriages and unsafe abortions and ensuring a gender equitable health delivery system.”

She said that female youth unemployment rates are higher than males and the female labour force participation rate is lower with a majority of females employed in the informal sector and as unpaid family workers. “Under the area of gender-based violence and violence against girls, as per the 2016 Violence Against Children Study, 63 percent of girls suffered physical violence at least once in their lifetime, 12.8 percent experienced sexual violence and 52.3 percent emotional violence.”

The director said that the perpetrators are mainly peers and adults who are assigned with their care. “As such, the empowering of girls and working towards a skilled girl force requires the strengthening of efforts on all fronts especially in building a safe and nurturing environment for girls.”

She revealed the figures yesterday in Thimphu as NCWC, in collaboration with UNICEF and Save the Children, joined the global community to observe the international day of the girl child with a theme “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force.”

A press release from the commission stated that despite endeavours to end all discrimination towards girls, teenage pregnancies, poverty and poor sanitation facilities in schools hinder girls in Bhutan from pursuing their education which also impedes them from gaining the necessary skills to join the workforce.

As per the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017, while the country’s labour force participation rate was 63.3 percent, the labour force participation rate for female was 52.2 percent and 73.1 percent for male, the press release stated.

“In all the age groups, the labour force participation rate for female was lower than that of male. The youth unemployment rate was 10.6 percent with female youth unemployment rate at 12.9 percent, which is higher than that of males at 9.2 percent.”

It stated that this year’s theme aims to only raise awareness of the fact that millions of girls around the world have the potential but not the opportunity to work on the same skilled jobs as boys.

The interim government advisor to the health ministry, Kinley Yangzom, shared the Civil Service Statistics 2017, which shows that female civil servants constitute 36.4 percent of the civil service.

“While this is a significant achievement compared to 10 years ago when it was 29 percent in 2007, women in executive and specialist positions constitute 11.7 percent only while men constitute 88.3 percent,” she said. “Targeted interventions are necessary to address the numerous challenges that girls and women face so as to enable them to participate to their full potential in the world of work and in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres.”

Meanwhile, the helpline, which was launched yesterday with other advocacy materials, is a national 24/7 free phone service to women and children in need of care and protection.

Kunzang Lhamu said it will be accessible to any child or adult on his or her behalf from any place at any given time. “A team of trained operators will be on call 24/7 to respond to any contact made by providing counselling and referral services, and legal information.”

She said the services provided will go beyond the provision of telephonic counselling, extending to emergency assistance and provision of long-term care and protection including referral services for rehabilitation, repatriation and reintegration into their communities. “This would include the provision of psycho-social services while living in residential care and thereafter in the care of the children’s families.”

The helpline is linked with the Central Management Information Services (CMIS) which is a central database for information on women and children in difficult circumstances and an online case management system where all relevant service providers collaborate to provide the services needed.

The director said the helpline would also provide an opportunity to callers to seek answers to their queries on sensitive issues, seek immediate counselling, legal, referral and other services without impinging on their privacy and under strict confidentiality.

Tashi Dema