If building strong democratic institutions is a continuous process in our journey towards a strong democracy, the Bhutan Children’s Parliament is a much-welcomed initiative.
In our efforts to building a strong foundation of democracy, our youth that comprises almost half the population has been far removed from the important process, albeit recognising them as an important group.
The parliament, therefore, will let many of our young imbibe the democratic ethos that is much needed today. The formation, elections and proceedings of the miniature parliament, run by young people for the young, will help strengthen the system of parliamentary democracy. Apart from facilitating leadership skills and thinking power from a young age, such a forum will expose and create democratic awareness on the functioning of the government system. It will also give them first hand experience in formulating public policy, and sensitise the young on issues concerning the country and themselves.
The benefits don’t stop there. Despite being in the second five-year term of a democratically elected government, we can surmise that many of our children are not involved, or have minimal experience in polity, except for going to the polls and voting where their parents want them to vote.
Experience of such parliaments globally proves that involving the young is an important building block for a successful democracy. The Election Commission of Bhutan is hopeful that deliberations in the children’s parliament could provide inputs for the Bhutanese Parliament.
Sometimes the brightest ideas emerge from young minds, especially on issues they face in real life. We can already see the model parliament discuss issues like unemployment, crime, social media and many more that concern them. The format of the parliament allows democracy clubs from schools and institutions across the country to deliberate on common issues that concern them.
A huge portion of our young people also represent rural Bhutan. This is an advantage, as they can understand rural issues affecting their village or community. For those not from rural areas, it is a good opportunity to get familiarised with rural communities and the issues they face. Our average voter is a farmer, who cannot understand beyond the local needs. This is where their well-informed and exposed children will have a part to play in shaping their views or representing them.
Depending on the success of the children’s parliament, the Parliament should take the institution seriously. By giving voice and recognising them, it becomes a good example of the participatory democracy we yearn for.
There are a host of issues that concern the youth. As we wait the first session to convene, we expect children to engage in fruitful discussions that will make their parliament serve as a bridge of ideas between decision makers in Parliament and the future leaders of tomorrow.
As for the launch of the parliament, there is no appropriate occasion than June 2, the coronation anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo who always believed that the destiny of the country lay in the hands of our children.