We often hear about the arrest, detention, and prosecution of our youth. It is also not uncommon to hear various issues including numerous criminal offences committed by our youth. This week a report in Kuensel stated: “Two years on, youth policy revision still incomplete”.  Another one said: “Parents unhappy with how schools handle disciplinary issues.”  There were reports of disturbing videos on social media involving children in violent acts. The reports of drug use, unemployment and social problems make our youth more prone to anti-social behaviours. The issue is increasingly becoming more complex and there is a need to address these issues urgently.  

The country recorded a 95 percent increase in crime in 2018 compared to 2017; the largest number constituted those committed by youth.  Contrary to such huge number, only 39 youth got reintegrated who came in conflict with the law in the only Youth Rehabilitation Development Centre (YRDC) in the country. Childcare and Protection Act (CCPA) 2012 mandates the state to ensure “diversion and alternative sentencing, prosecution, conviction, imprisonment, stigmatization, victimization, and criminalization and facilitate social reintegration” and also protects them against the separation from their parents, unless it is imperative for the best interest of the child. This essentially means that detention, arrest or imprisonment of any child in any form must be an exception.  

But the Section 115 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 states: “If the defendant is a child of above 12 years, the court shall sentence the child in conflict with the law to a minimum of half of the sentence prescribed for the offence.”  This provision not only criminalizes youth crime but also fixes the minimum penalties in case of committing a crime.  Further, Section 5 of CCPA allows “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child as a last resort” and section 10 discriminates if the child has a criminal history that deserves initiation of prosecution.  These are a few examples, how the current legal mechanisms are conflicting and how the State is still ill-prepared in terms of addressing the youth issues.  

For example, contrary to numerous measures to protect children in conflict with the law, most detention centres across the country hardly have special places for a child in conflict with the law. Our young people are detained and treated the same as an adult person involved in a crime, violating the fundamentals of CCPA. Once they are arrested, they stay with other detainees accused of serious offences making them vulnerable.  The institutions of probation officers or protection officers remain only in the law and implementation is almost absent. Though the law was enacted as early as 2012, implementation of the law remains very weak. Except for youth unemployment, the overall scenario of our youth has never attracted political eyes. Thus, unless the government buckles up and ensures a multi-sectoral approach to address youth-related problems, the issue is likely to worsen.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.