Council: The social and cultural affairs committee of the National Council yesterday proposed recommendations to address issues related to teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse against children and sexual harassment.

The Council’s eminent member and the committee’s deputy chairperson, Kesang Chuki Dorjee, said that currently there are adequate laws and policies in place on all the three issues to address provisions on prevention, protection, and clear identification of stakeholders and enforcement.

“The key challenge in addressing these issues is rooted in implementation gaps,” the deputy chairperson said. Resource constraints are often cited as a reason for the gaps.

The deputy chairperson said that given the negative impact of the issues on society while reducing the vast scope of all the three issues, the Council on the basis of its findings recommends nationwide advocacy and awareness building on the issues.

The committee members while deliberating the review report on the teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, presented the findings.

A total of 3,362 girls gave birth by the age of 16 and younger, while more than 43 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 reported to have had their first pregnancy between 11-and 19-years old, according to National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) monograph Sexual and Reproductive Health of the Adolescents and Youth in Bhutan (2015).

Meanwhile, RENEW has reported 266 registered cases of teenage pregnancy and more than 200 cases of sexual harassment from employees working in drayangs and a few from hydropower projects between 2009 and 2016.

The second recommendation is the strict implementation of the education ministry’s life skills education curriculum from classes PP to class XII.

“Life skills education curriculum provides immense opportunity to target behavioral change at a young age, which would go a long way in increasing awareness and protecting children on discussed issues.”

Increasing school guidance counsellors across central and secondary schools is recommended to bridge the gap as the counselors provide valuable preventive counseling services to children. Currently, there are only 75 counselors for 179 central and secondary schools in the country.

The fourth recommendation is the enforcement of existing legislation by the NCWC. The commission is yet to fulfill several remaining essential provisions of the Acts relating to women, child and domestic violence including the creation of Dzongkha women and children committees, appointment of the child protection officers, accrediting shelter and remand homes as well as social offices.

“NCWC should also expand its advocacy and awareness building activities, working closely in collaboration on other stakeholders to minimize duplication of activities and pool resources,” she said.

The committee’s chairperson Dhan Bdr Monger said that the issues of teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse against children and sexual harassment are identified as issues of growing policy concern in Bhutan today.

These issues were highlighted in a multi-stakeholder informal consultation held in July this year organised by RENEW and included the NCWC, Royal Bhutan Police, the United Nations Population Fund and the committee.

The committee presented the preliminary findings by the stakeholders to the plenary and it was decided that the committee then conduct a thorough review of these issues and report during the 18th session by consulting the concerned stakeholders, review relevant legislation and policies.

The committee consulted with relevant agencies including the health ministry, education ministry, labour ministry, BICMA, draying owners and employees, among others to understand the issues and implementation challenges.

“Data and information collected from stakeholders have formed the basis for this report,” the chairperson said.

Dechen Tshomo