Bhutan celebrates World Children’s Day through grassroots football

Sherab Lhamo

Harnessing the power of sport as an inclusive means to improve and strengthen children’s wellbeing, a grassroots football programme was held at the Changlimithang stadium to celebrate World Children’s Day yesterday.

Around 100 children including child monks and children with disabilities participated in the programme that was organised by UNICEF Bhutan and Bhutan Football Federation. Inclusive and adaptive, grassroots football is designed around improving and securing many areas of children’s well-being. These include physical and mental health, being safe from harm, empowerment learning and life skills, which are essential for success in school, life and work.

Chairperson of the National Council, Sangay Dorji, said, “Such events serve as a platform for expressions, connecting young minds and fostering a sense of belonging that strengthens the fabric of our society. It is all about nurturing talents and building a vibrant and cohesive community for our generations to come.”

Sanjay Wijesekera with a participant

According to UNICEF Bhutan and the BFF, sport, recreation and play are contributing to improving the health and wellbeing of children and youth. The grassroots football is an effective tool to engage children, especially the most vulnerable in activities that benefit their social and personal development. The Children’s Day event was attended by officials from the government, CSO, parents and family members of the children, and UNICEF officials.

Regional Director for UNICEF South Asia, Sanjay Wijesekera, shared his excitement about his first visit to Bhutan and celebrating World Children’s Day with the children here.

“I cannot think of a better way to do it than through grassroots football, a game that promotes physical activity as well as mental wellbeing of children across all abilities,” Sanjay Wijesekera said. “I am a firm believer that sports are at the heart of physical and mental wellbeing, teach us about working together to achieve our goal, and teach us how to win graciously. Losing is not a failure; it is just an opportunity to learn to improve.”

The day, the regional director said, is also a reminder of the power of partnership. “We, as UNICEF, are delighted to work with our partners in Bhutan in support of children’s mental health and wellbeing.”

World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s global day of action for children, by children, marking the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20. This year, World Children’s Day raised awareness of the critical need to uphold every right, for every child, and the transformative power of children and young people’s participation in creating a better world for all.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 31.1) establishes “the right of the child to … leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child.”

A young monk with a physical disability from Tashi Choeling monastic school at Chukha Dratshang, Sonam Wangchen, shared that it was his first time attending such a programme and being in a public gathering.

“It is my first time participating in an event like this and I am very happy,” he said. “ I think this kind of opportunity should be given to all children; when an opportunity like this is not given equally to all, we feel neglected.”

President of Bhutan Football Federation, Ugyen Tsechup Dorji, said, UNICEF and Bhutan Football Federation through the language of sports are taking the initiative to send and spread the message to treat children with dignity and the respect they deserve.

“World Children’s Day is a reminder that in the laughter and curiosity of our children, we find the true essence of humanity and the future architects of our world,” the President said. “It’s with this in mind that we create an environment where their dreams can take flight and their potential is nurtured in the utmost care.”

He said, there are still some pertinent issues in terms of mental health, and violence against children such as child abuse, and dropouts. Events like World Children’s Day, he said, also provide the platform to highlight challenges facing children.

Some of these challenges were shared by the Black Box Theatre group through a play centred around the theme ‘Dream’ at a reception hosted by the Regional Director yesterday evening. The act showed children grappling with the challenge of expressing their dreams aloud due to limited or no support. However, with assistance from various related agencies, they find the support needed to share their dreams.

Bhutan was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the CRC in 1990.