Law: Considering the social, psychological and educational aspects, any child arrested and detained, with or without warrant, should not be taken to court. There is a need to avoid societal stigmatisation.

This is one of the many recommendations made by the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD) to the Women, Children and Youth Committee (WCYC) of the National Assembly after consultation with youth representatives of the Youth Initiative (YI) on April 13 in Paro.

Following a letter from WCYC earlier this year, BCMD was asked to involve youth to review the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of Bhutan 2011.

Seventeen representatives from YI were involved in reviewing the CCPA and recommending amendments to the Act. BCMD said that additional views were also gathered from youth below the age of 18 who had come in conflict with law and feels they were not protected.

It is recommended that Child Welfare Committees be established in all the dzongkhags to help the victims and justice to be provided to the victim of child trafficking. It also recommended that confidentiality be maintained for children who come in conflict with the law.

Since the CCPA was adopted based on the Juvenile Act of India 2015, it is not coherent with the Bhutanese reality. BCMD, thus, recommended that there is a need to revisit the Act.

After discussion with some of the youth who had come in conflict with the law, the centre learned that arrest and imprisonment of a child or youth created a barrier for them to avail No Objection Certificate (NOC) even after serving the term.

Section 183 of the Penal Court (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2011, states that “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of twelve years if the defendant commits any act of sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of twelve to eighteen years. However, consensual sex between children of sixteen years and above shall not be deemed to be rape”.

BCMD said that in terms of consensual sex under 18 years of age, only boys are being penalised. The recommendations highlighted that sex education fails in reality and suggested reformation.

The centre’s officials also said that many children, parents and institutions are unaware of the CCPA. Failure to implement the Act by most of the institutions concerned is the biggest loophole in the system.

Section 73 of the Act says: “Every child in conflict with the law shall not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, after discussion with some of the victims, the centre learned that implementation of the Act was questionable.

The Act also guarantees “One Stop Crisis Centre” in every major government hospital, staffed by a police official, psychiatrist, social worker and a legal counsel to facilitate prompt actions for children with problems. However, the centre feels implementation is failing here too.

BCMD said that the recommendations have been submitted to the committee. The committee is currently reviewing the recommendations and will be discussed in the winter session of parliament.

Younten Tshedup