The future of Bhutan Children’s Parliament (BCE) will rest on a review carried out by Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), education ministry, and other relevant agencies.
The National Assembly resolved to delegate the task to review the issues on BCP that generated from the National Council’s recommendation on the Budget appropriation Bill.
The stakeholders reviewing the issue will have to submit their review report to the house.
Even during the discussion at the Council, members deliberated on the need to review this issue separately since there is no scope to discuss the legal aspects and impact during the course of budget discussion. NC has, however, raised concerns on politicisation of schools and education system.
In the Assembly, it was highlighted that some 4,500 children in higher grades are members to BCP and 176 schools are involved.
Opposition members supported the Council’s recommendation that Nu 4.6M budget for the conduct of election and sessions for BCP be discontinued and reallocate it to voter education and awareness programmes.
The Khar-Yurung representative, Zanglay Dukpa, said that the intention of BCP is decent but there is also a need to assess the risk it carries. “While there is not much budget and no big problem at the moment, it has a potential to create big problems in the future,” he said, citing the examples of how politicisation of colleges and schools undermine democracy in other countries. “Since most members of BCP are18 years and above, who have the right to vote, the risk is huge given the fact that more political parties are coming up.”
The Bumdeling-Jamkhar representative, Dupthob, said the basis of BCP needs proper thoughts because it started with children and it could lead to formation of other Parliaments for women and elderly too.
Another opposition member, Nidup Zangpo, also questioned that when the Constitution of the Kingdom is the most superior law in the country, why the need to have separate constitution for the children?
The Members of the BCP signed and adopted the Children’s Constitution in the kuenray of Punakha Dzong on June 2, 2015.
However, education minister Norbu Wangchuk said it is also ECB’s primary mandate to conduct civil education on democracy and election besides the elections. “If the Children’s Parliament undermines the democracy, ECB should be the most concerned,” he said, adding that no issues came up in the last three years.
Norbu Wangchuk added that the government should be careful when it comes to intervening in the matters of a Constitutional body like the ECB.
He offered the support of education ministry in reviewing the risk of politicisation and submiting it to the Parliament. Until then, he supported the continuity of the BCP.
Panbang’s opposition member, Dorji Wangdi, also raised concerns of political parties fielding fresh graduates as candidates and upon not making through the elections they were disqualified from appearing their civil service exams.
“On the hand, we have very stringent rules, and on the other, it seems that things are very liberal,” he said.
He recommended that the BCP be suspended until a thorough review is done. “We have a lot to do when it comes to voter education and awareness,” he said, endorsing the Council’s recommendation to divert the fund.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the BCP not only gives the children wholesome education, but also gives them the opportunity to learn the democratic process.
“Children’s Parliament discuss national issues and come up with good recommendations. Everything is education,” he said.
“The views are based on perception that risk may arise,” he said. “If this is so, the real risk does not come from the Children’s Parliament but from the political parties, us.”
If parties respect the children and refrain from politicisation, he said there is a lot of benefit to children.
Meanwhile, the Council has submitted seven recommendations on the budget appropriation Bill. The government acknowledged some of the recommendations to be implemented in the future.