Study finds neglected children most at risk

Report: A Study on the Status of Vulnerable Children has found that children from economically disadvantaged families and broken families are the most vulnerable and the most tormented.

The study, conducted by RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) with support from Save the Children, was launched on December 9.

The study also found that children from poor families come in conflict with the law, especially in cases such as larceny, auto stripping and burglary. While children with disabilities were also found to be part of the vulnerable group, children from well-to-do family were equally vulnerable, especially in relation to those whose parents are addicted to gambling.

Children without legal status, especially orphans, children born out of wedlock, and those who are not able to find their father after separation were also found to be vulnerable. This is attributed to the “floating male population”, mainly civil servants, who go on official tours and  impregnate women in the villages. There are also children who face difficulty getting their census registered.

Although all the 20 dzongkhags were taken as primary unit, Paro, Tsirang and Trashigang were selected for the assignment of systematic Probability Proportional to Size (PPS).

All the gewogs in Paro, Tsirang and Trashigang were taken as the primary sample areas. Households in the gewogs with vulnerable children were taken as the secondary sampling unit. The vulnerable children were then taken as tertiary sampling unit and were the key respondents.

Of the total sample size of 891 children, 459 were in Trashigang, 235 in Paro and 197 in Tsirang. Respondents were children with one form of vulnerability or the other.

Wangchang gewog in Paro did not have any case of vulnerable children.

Causes

Alcohol continues to be the main factor that leads to divorce, especially in poor families.

“Divorce cases lead to poverty as the number of income generating persons is reduced by one,” says the study. “Single parents are unable to generate adequate income for children, increasing the school dropout rate.”

Besides qualitative and quantitative findings, the study also presents case studies of the vulnerable children in different parts of the country. Tsamang Primary School in Mongar manifests one of the highest rates of divorce and single parents where there are 28 children from broken families.

The study also show that role of parents in upbringing of their child could be improved. While children from economically backward families are academically poor, those from rich families engage in substance abuse.

The study also highlights a high negligence on the part of parents be they rich or poor. Students have confided in teachers that they hardly see their parents. While poor and single parents work until late night and have no time for their children, rich parents are out most of the time engaged in social calls and gambling away, leaving their children alone, sometimes even without a maid.

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Gaps

The study had also found that although counselling is vital for children, schools lacked trained counsellors. Institutions like National Commission for Women and Children also lack trained professionals and adequate funds to roll out their activities. The police and civil society organisations (CSOs) are also faced the same challenges.

Although there is Labour and Employment Act, the labour ministry has not yet been able to define child labour. The country lacks of accurate child labour figures.

“The 2013 Labour Force Survey (LFS) says that 7,304 people between 15 and 19 years are involved in different vocations, but there are no breakdowns,” says the study. The only data on the status of child labour in Bhutan is the 2011 LFS, which found about 4,400 Bhutanese children between the ages of 13 and 17 years working outside their homes.

Similarly, there is no definition of disability and vulnerability. The study highlights that awareness on the existence of legislations protecting child rights is very low and there is no separate CSO working exclusively for children.

While there is only one shelter home for children and women run by RENEW, the study states that except for Thimphu and Paro, there is no separate detention cell for minors.

Vulnerability

The study found that most of the vulnerable children were from Paro (45 percent), followed by Trashigang (34 percent) and Tsirang (20 percent). Among them, male children were found to be more vulnerable (61 percent).

Most of the vulnerable children were found to be between the ages of 7 and 12 years.

Records with the police also show that children are increasingly getting in conflict with the law. Some 798 cases were reported in 2008, 988 in 2013. The highest was recorded in 2011 with 1,241 cases. Until June last year, police recorded 510 cases involving children.

The survey has found that children who came in conflict with the law is highest in Paro, followed by Trashigang.

“No child of predominantly rural Tsirang had the same experience,” says the study.

Kinga Dema

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