Yangyel Lhaden

Although established to take the lead in promoting and protecting the rights of women and children in the country, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) say they lack resources and capacity to provide services.

Officials say three acts, Domestic Violence Prevention Act of Bhutan (DVPA) 2013, Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan (CCPA) 2011, and Child Adoption Act (CAA) of Bhutan 2012 mandate them to provide services to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), children in difficult circumstances (CIDC) and children in conflict with law (CICL).

“The acts state the government shall provide adequate budget to NCWC for its effective implementation to develop, coordinate and monitor programmes and activities for survivors of GBV and children,” an official said.

He said they had not been able to provide services like child shelter homes and reintegration programmes as mandated in the Acts. “There is also lack of protection, probation and child welfare officer.”

According to the official, reintegration programmes include livelihood training, finding employment and setting up a small business for survivors. “But there are no strong reintegration programmes in the country.”

CCPA 2011 also mandates alternative sentencing for children but there is no programme approved by the government to engage the children.

The official said they had been proposing to the government, the former governments and the present, since the implementation of the Acts for support to put these services in place but nothing has been done to date.

DVPA 2013 also mandates instituting three officers, protection, probation, and child welfare officers, in all 20 dzongkhags.

The official said the Royal Civil Service Commission approved three officers in 2018 but they are on contract.

He said NCWC reached out to dzongkhag legal officers to take the roles of the three officers but with legal officers shouldering multiple responsibilities, the services weren’t in place as desired.

Without shelter homes in place, NCWC relies on Civil Society Organisations for interim shelter and relevant agencies for reintegration programmes, which officials say was not easy with formalities and CSO’s functioning with a limited budget.

Most NCWC clients sought interim shelter at the hospital before the pandemic and detention centre.

CCPA 2011 also states government shall endeavour to establish and maintain as many child homes, remand homes, special home, and closed facility and aftercare homes, as may be necessary.

“Forget about the five child homes, the government didn’t even approve interim shelter,” an official said. “It’s difficult to find shelter for cases with mental illness and addiction.”

Officials say shelter home was preferred only as last resort for survivors but an interim shelter was necessary with cases reported during off-hours.

The government usually allocates Nu 150,000 to NCWC for women and children in emergency but it was slashed off last year due to the pandemic.

However, the commission received 448 cases last year, which is an increase of 90.6 percent compared to 235 in 2019.

Out of 448 cases, 123 were GBV cases, 22 CICL cases, 94 CIDC cases, 200 women in difficult circumstances and nine advice, guidance and miscellaneous cases.

NCWC could provide reintegration services to only 136 individuals last year, which officials explained was done after they explored budget.

They say lack of reintegration programmes impact CICL, as most cases are burglary, larceny, and battery.

Most children in Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre in Tshimasham, Chukha, are recidivists or habitual offenders. “A child might have committed repeated burglary after being caught because he has no other option,” an NCWC official said.

He said that, when a child was sent back to the same environment where parents could not afford basic necessities he or she would commit the crime again. “If there were strong reintegration programmes to make the family independent, the child might not be a repeat offender.”

The official said, without reintegration programmes, the cases would worsen and these facilities should be in place to better manage cases.

According to CCPA 2011, a child should be given alternative sentencing called diversion as far as possible. 

Officials say NCWC facilitates diversion of CICL but it is not readily available as there are no programmes by the government where the children should be engaged.

In an effort to address the issues, NCWC drafted its own Act, which was submitted to the government.