Neten Dorji

Trashigang—In 2020, over 237 cases of teenage pregnancies were reported in the country. The highest number of cases, 55 in total, was recorded in Thimphu, followed by Chukha with 30 cases and Trashigang with 20 cases.

All the affected individuals were students, primarily in classes V to X. Some of the girls became pregnant during the lockdown when schools were closed in 2020.

An analysis of the Statistical Yearbook of the Royal Bhutan Police reveals that in most cases, the perpetrators were known to the minors. They included stepfathers, brothers, uncles, biological fathers, or neighbours.

The teenage girls who became pregnant predominantly come from low-income backgrounds and belong to illiterate groups. Agencies attribute the probable causes of teenage pregnancy to poor parental guidance, the absence of comprehensive sex education in schools, and access to pornographic content online.

Currently, four youths from Y-PEER Bhutan are in Trashigang, raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and teenage pregnancy.

Bhawana Pradhan, the facilitator of Y-PEER Bhutan, explained that the initiative aims to empower young individuals regarding their sexual and reproductive health rights. She added, “We are focusing on Trashigang dzongkhag as studies show that Trashigang recorded the third-highest number of teenage pregnancies among the 18 dzongkhags.”

The team has reached out to over 1,000 students in Zhemgang, Mongar, and Trashigang. They educate students about SRHR and select those who will work as SRHR champions in their respective schools.

From these efforts, they selected 32 SRHR champions from Zhemgang, 20 from Mongar, and 23 from Jampeling Central School in Trashigang.

Members of the campaign emphasise that they are also shedding light on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community and the issue of discrimination in Bhutanese society.

Bhawana Pradhan noted that, compared to western dzongkhags, students in eastern dzongkhags lack education on teenage pregnancy.

She said, “Most young individuals do not understand the use of modern contraception. Moreover, they do not know much about agencies that support girls and women, like NCWC, The Pema Secretariat/Centre?, and RENEW.”

She added that they would provide resources to the Y-PEER champions to conduct awareness campaigns on SRHR. Members stress that such awareness efforts should be particularly focused on eastern dzongkhags, as youths there are generally less informed about SRHR.

The group also delivered a presentation on the importance of sex education, the age of consent, and the consequences of consensual sex.

The campaign’s theme, “Bring SRHR 2 (You)th; SRHR 4”, is supported by Save the Children Bhutan, ShiftBhutan, and the Department of Education.