Post-reinvestigation RBP report on Serzhong LSS incident comes up with suggestions
Suicide: It’s not known what happened that September 25 night at the girls’ hostel of Serzong lower secondary school in Mongar last year. All that has been reported is that it started after some girls saw two men leaving the hostel.
What followed after the men left cannot be determined either, but on September 27 afternoon the school lost a 16-year old student. The class VII student had ended her life.
Following a reinvestigation into her death, as requested by the student’s uncle, and based on similar incidents in the past, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) has advised the education ministry to frame a written guideline for all schools regarding “inappropriate and unauthorised relations between girls and boys.”
“These guidelines should be adequate enough to deal with students having unauthorised or inappropriate relations,
which is inevitable and unavoidable in schools, especially among students of 15 years and above,” the RBP suggested.
Police said that such unauthorised relations are prohibited and against the discipline of any school and, in such cases, “girls should be questioned and inquired into by female teachers only.”
“Nevertheless, due to the unavoidable nature of the problem, the solution is not to punish and outcast such students, but to properly counsel and reform such students, and make them realise the wrong footing they are indulging into,” the police suggested.
“Inquiry and counselling in such cases should be made discreetly, so as to avoid embarrassment to the girls.”
Although police ruled out foul play in this case, its suggestions implied that the school administration could have handled the situation more sensitively.
The class VII student isn’t the first to take her life on school premises. The education minister shared at the National Assembly session last November that 11 students had committed suicide last year.
A study on ‘reported suicide cases in Bhutan from 2009-13’, found that, of the 319 “completed suicides”, about 14 percent were students, after farmers at 45 percent. About 62 percent of the completed suicides were between 15-40 years, and about 28 percent of completed and 49 percent of attempted suicides were youths.
It was also found that, of the 319 people, who had taken their own lives, 64 had attempted suicide earlier, and a majority (48 percent) had attempted at least once, 28 percent had attempted twice, and 11 percent had attempted thrice.
“It is surprising to note that one person had attempted suicide seven times, indicating that there was no support from the family members for that individual,” the study stated.
The study pointed out that there was lack of concern from caretakers/guardians regarding the warning signs of suicide that they projected. “Even when someone had history of several attempts of suicide in the past, there seems to be little or no support to seek help.”
It was also found that a majority of those who either completed or attempted suicide had symptoms suggestive of a mental disorder, and had also experienced at least one stressful event in the last one-year period prior to the incident. “However, few were diagnosed to have a mental disorder,” the study states. “Among those diagnosed, the most common diagnoses were psychosis and depression.”
Meanwhile, after the task force submitted the report to the Cabinet, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the Cabinet instructed them to come up with an action plan and to draft a national suicide prevention strategy that spells out the responsibilities of each agency.
The executive order on “matters concerning suicide cases in Bhutan,” which the prime minister’s office issued on February 16 last year, called on all relevant agencies for their concerted efforts in combating the situation, which will have great impact in a society with a small population.
“It is imperative for the nation to come up with a ‘National Suicide Prevention Strategy’ to prevent people from taking their own lives,” the executive order states.
Among other directives for immediate follow-ups, the health ministry was to establish a separate unit specifically to look after the matter, and to create awareness on prevention of further suicide cases in the country.
The health ministry has started a suicide prevention program, and had also selected a suicide prevention officer. However, Kuensel learnt that the civil service commission is yet to approve the officer’s appointment, citing the ongoing organisational development (OD) exercise.
Meanwhile, the student’s uncle, Pema Thinley, however, had called on the education ministry to fix accountability and take necessary administrative action against those who were responsible.
“Lessons must be learnt from the smallest of tragedy but, as its reoccurrence of 11 students in 2014 alone shows, we’re failing as a nation to learn anything from the tragedy of our children, who lose their right to live out their lives.”
By Sonam Pelden