A total of 238 youth took part in the International Youth Day, which was observed in Phuentsholing Middle Secondary School yesterday.

The Department of Youth and Sports’ youth centre division (YCD) organised it with Phuentsholing thromde. UNICEF provided the fund.

Students from five schools in Phuentsholing thromde, College of Science and Technology (CST), youth volunteers of Phuentsholing Youth Centre (PYC) and entertainment centres participated in the event themed, “Safe spaces for youth.”

Prior to the event, a daylong youth forum was conducted on August 10 to discuss safety concerns, identify opportunities and challenges of available spaces, and develop recommendations for relevant agencies to promote safe environment for youth.

The forum was designed to help youth understand how safe spaces can empower them by giving them the confidence to come together, engage in activities related to their diverse needs and interests, and participate in decision-making processes of the government.

Student president of PYC, Phuntsho Choden Tenzin, asked if our homes are safe for the youth.

She presented the recommendations of the youth forum and said that although homes are supposed to be safe for youth, some have become bars and gambling houses.

The youth president said it is the responsibility of the parents and lawmakers to make homes and other spaces a safe place for youth.

“Youth should be protected anyway,” Phuntsho Choden Tenzin said.

The findings also recommended that lawmakers and relevant agencies were required to promote responsible parenting, provide advocacies on Child Protection Act for parents, and amend the Marriage Act, 2009, so that divorce cases reduce.

YCD chief, Rinzin Wangmo, said that participants of the youth forum were able to understand the importance of safe spaces and how they contribute to their overall development.

“Many participants shared that physical spaces like home, school and public spaces should be safe for young people to freely interact with each other and express themselves openly,” she said.

Rinzin Wangmo said many youth shared that sexual harassment, bullying, exploitation, violence, and other forms of abuse that arise due to substance abuse, irresponsible parenting, and unprofessional caregivers are some of the factors that make their home, school and public spaces unsafe.

She said that youth shared that there are risks at home when there were many relatives and guests staying over, parents were alcoholic and had extramarital affairs.

“Youth forum discussions also found that schools and colleges, the places of learning were unsafe with bullying, eve teasing and partiality taking place. Public places like parks, sporting areas and entertainment centres frequented by youth for enjoyment also had risks like substance abuse, violence, harassment and exploitation.”

A 19-year-old student of Yoenten Kuenjung Academy, Sherab Lhamo, said Zangtopelri in Phuentsholing was the safest place outside their home.

“Library and youth centre are also safe places.”

She said recreational parks were not very safe with drunken people loitering.

“As Phuentsholing shares a porous border with Jaigaon, it is also difficult to differentiate and know the people.”

Sherab Lhamo said she has experienced eve teasing in places where only youth gather.

A CST student Rinchen Dorji, 22, said there should be strict checking at the gate to stop easy access of substance abuse.

Phuentsholing thrompon, Uttar Kumar Rai, who also attended the event said youth have started to raise voice and there was a need to sincerely and seriously work on it.

“Our biggest asset is our youth.”

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing