Yangyel Lhaden

A single mother Sangay Pema was living with her three daughters and sister in a small hut. She lived in constant fear of how she could continue to support her three children and her sister’s education with no source of income.

But that was two years ago. Today, she lives in a rented house and provides for the family by operating a small grocery shop.

She is one of the beneficiaries of a pilot project called “Building Social Protection for the Vulnerable Children,” which started in 2018 for three years by Nazhoen Lamtoen, an organisation dedicated to youth with funding support from Save the Children, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and Opening Your Heart to Bhutan.

The pilot project supported children in remote pockets of the country with the main goal to protect vulnerable children by empowering their families with self-sustaining businesses and preventing children in difficult circumstances (CIDC) from coming into conflict with the law.

Nazhoen Lamtoen’s Executive Director Thinley Tobgyel said that in many cases, children were exploited when families were under financial crisis, and there is a high correlation of CIDC coming in conflict with the law.

“About 99 percent of juveniles serving sentences in the Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC) belong to dysfunctional families or families with difficult circumstances,” he said.

He said that the project focused on children in villages and rural communities, as children faced protection issues, abuse, violence, neglect, and were not aware of their rights, and many were not aware where to report and seek support.

“They do not have access to national protection and services due to remote locations and circumstances,” he said.

Sangay Pema said that despite the challenges, her children are bright and continue to excel in academics. “The business is good and I am thankful for Nazhoen Lamtoen’s support to make my family independent.”

Thinley Tobgyel said that there was a concern her children might drop out of school and marry early to support their mother. “The office rented a house and established a shop with Nu 200,000 in seed money.”

The project was tried in five dzongkhags; Paro, Chukha, Mongar, Zhemgang, and Thimphu to provide livelihood self-sustaining business to families of CIDC.

A total of 502 CIDC was supported through the project in these five dzongkhags (Paro: 139, Chukha: 81, Mongar: 66, Zhemgang: 111, and Thimphu: 45), out of which 60 CIDC are living in Nazhoen Lamtoen’s shelter home.

The beneficiaries included orphans, single parents with no income, many siblings in one family vulnerable to exploitation, children with disabilities, and incapacitated parents.

About 200 various businesses were established, ranging from dairy farms, grocery shops, agricultural farming, tailoring, mushroom farming, poultry farming, and garment shops.

Thinley Tobgyel said that case management officers ensured Nu 2,000 per month is deposited to children’s accounts from the profit generated from the businesses. “Families for whom establishing businesses were not possible due to family’s incapacity and lack of market were provided monthly support.”

He said that the organisation was looking forward to forming a community child protection team in each gewog to address the issues and fast track cases. “Alcoholism, divorce, domestic violence, and lack of parenting skills is the major cause of issues which has a huge impact on children’s mental health and increases their vulnerability.”

Thinley Tobgyel said that 56 children in conflict with the law (CICL) from all parts of the country would also be provided support after their release from the YDRC.