National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC)’s director Kunzang Lhamu said that the biggest challenge in eliminating violence against children was because cases go unreported.

She said that violence related to online safety of children and harmful practice of alienation of children due to addiction to online games is some of the emerging issues in the country. “Violence against children (VAC) is prevalent and consists of physical, sexual, and emotional violence.”

A three-day United Nations high-level cross-regional round table was held in Thimphu to discuss the roles of regional organisations in protecting children from violence and advancing progress towards the elimination of all forms of VAC.

In Bhutan, children and young people rarely report violence to adult, authorities, and service providers, Kunzang Lhamu said.

She added that the children do not seek support from those who are trained or qualified and those who would be able to help them.

“There is also a strong culture of self-blame as children often feel that they deserve to be beaten when they misbehave. It was also disclosed that if family members perpetrated violence, abuse, and extreme punishment, it creates a risk for the family if the perpetrator is the only breadwinner,” she said. “If he or she is taken away, the family would be affected. So it is also out of fear and insecurity because of which children choose not to report.”

The discussions at the meeting highlighted promoting safe and child friendly urban spaces, promoting regional support and national action to implement child related sustainable development goals (SDG) to eliminate VAC.

The meeting also recommended collaboration of the regional bodies to eliminate harmful practices including child marriage, and also involving the religious bodies and communities in eliminating of VAC.

Kunzang Lhamu said that the regional organisations committed to promote regional support and national action to implement child related SDGs, particularly target 16.2, which is to do with ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.

She added that the members reaffirmed commitment to accelerate progress on the implementation of the UN recommendations on VAC in the respective regions. “Promoting of safe and child friendly urban spaces informed by children’s experiences, views and best interests were another point of agreement.”

Concerns regarding social tolerance of VAC and keeping it unreported was reiterated.

Special representative of the secretary-general on VAC (SRSG-VAC), Marta Santos Pais, said that among the many challenges, child marriage was one of the common practices in the South Asia region.

She added that legislations played an important role in informing families and public on polices and laws to eliminate VAC. “We also need to make sure that professionals, children, and parents are aware of the legislations and, for that reason, policy makers and other bodies should work together.”

Participants including global civil society organisations and organsations working to eliminate violence against children attended the meeting.

Including representatives from NCWC and Respect, Educate, Nurture, Empower Women (RENEW), there were over 35 participants.

The three-day meeting ended on May 11.

Phurpa Lhamo