A child is the true reflection
of the socio-economic realities of a society and the nation. Children
are the true representative of a country’s future. BWCO recognises the
Child as an inherent and integral component of society deserving the best
the society has to offer. It believes that every child has an inherent
right to survival, protection, security, development, love, care,
education, health care, justice, peace and freedom. It believes that the
grassroots social movement is required for the effective realisation
of the rights of the child. Child development and welfare are definitely
not a charity. The child must be the basis of any national development
programme. Hence the child development and welfare policy must emphasise
the participation of entire communities, society and the national government
Bhutan ratified the Convention
on the Rights of the Child on May 23, 1990, but submitted its initial
report to the Committee on the Rights of the Children only on 20 April
1999, after five reminders and seven years of its due date on 01 September
1992. The report is full of distortion and fallacies. Bhutanese children
are denied their rights under Articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12,
13, 14, 15, 28, 30, 32 of the Convention. Bhutan continues its policy
of discrimination against Lhotshampa children, thus violating Article
2, the cardinal General Principles of the Convention.
Bhutan is a nation of
younger population. According to a 1989 government report,
65% of her population is below 30 years of age, around 40% of Bhutan's
population was below 15 years of age. According to the same
report, the child population under 19 years ( 01-19 years) was 50
% of population. A child is legally defined as anyone not attaining
the ages of 16 years in the case of girls and 18 in the case of boys according
to Bhutan’s Initial report submitted to the Committee on the Rights of
the Child in September, 1990
While, most child workers
between 10-14 ages are found in Asia, Bhutan accounts for the highest
percentage (55%) of the child labour in the age-group between 10 to14-
according to an ILO report, 1999, higher than Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
It has made a mockery of such an important Convention.
Although the Royal Government
of Bhutan claims to have introduced universal primary education in the
country, the percentage of enrolment at the primary level is only about
20 % and 80 % of children remain without education. They are compelled
to work in the agricultural farms and tend cattle. They also work
as household and construction workers. Child labour exploitation is a
consequence of the feudal social system, poverty, deprivation, illiteracy
and lack of awareness among the parents.
Education beyond the
primary level is strictly regulated in accordance with the manpower requirements
of the various government departments. Nation-wide Common Examinations
are held at class (standard) six and eight levels. Almost 60 % of students
drop out at class six and more than 50 % at class eight. These examinations
are nothing but a process of elimination and implemented to ensure
that the country need not suffer agricultural labourers. The government
thinks that if all receive higher education, there will be none to attend
to the agricultural farms. Only a few manage to go up to class ten, where
they are again screened. By the time they enter Junior college and college,
only a handful remain in the education system.
No one really knows what
happens to those thousands of children who drop out at class six. Rich
families can always take their children to India for education even if
they have failed in the Common Examinations. But poor children, once they
have failed in the Common Examinations, are denied further education.
There is only one Bachelors degree college in Bhutan as the higher education
is deliberately restricted. The government fears that the educated
unemployed youth might create political opposition
to the government.
CLEARANCE OR NO OBJECTION CERTIFICATES
In 1990, the government
introduced a draconian rule requiring all Lhotshampa citizens
to produce a No Objection Certificates (NOCs) or Police Clearance
Certificates (PCC) or Security Clearance Certificates (SCC) from the police stating that
none of their kith and kin has been involved in the peaceful pro-human
rights and pro-democratic movement of September-October, 1990. Every Lhotshampa
was required to produce PCCs for getting admission of their
children into schools. However, other ethnic groups were not mandated
to produce the PCCs.
Through the introduction
of a draconian rule requiring the issue of the Police Clearance Certificate
by the police, the Government has effectively blocked the Southern Bhutanese
children of their right to education. This certificate is required at
the time of admission to schools in the country. This certificate is denied
to any person whose family members was suspected to be the sympathisers
of the human rights movement. No civilised society can bear the accusations
of a six year child denied the right to education, a penalty the
child is made to pay for the convictions, right or wrong, of older
relatives, who have sympathised with human rights movement. The Government
has closed all schools in southern Bhutan. A few schools are opened, where
only the children of security forces and government officials are allowed.
The government declared
all sympathisers of pro-human rights movement and who opposed its racist
and discriminatory policies ant-national and not eligible for PCCs. Other
family members of those taking part in the peaceful protest rallies,
who had not participated in them were also declared anti-national
and evicted. PCCs were never issued to the Lhotshampa. Consequently,
these children have landed in the refugee camps in Nepal.
The Royal Bhutan Army
conscripts the underage minor children into the security forces.
There are instance of 14 years old children forcefully recruited
into the army, but making them to write their age as 20 years and
not the real age under threat. Militia forces have been raised at various
times in the past, including during internal disturbances in the early
1990s. Up to 30 % of militia recruits in the early 1990s were school
and village children; after three months training they were reportedly
deployed in auxiliary support to the army. The presence of Indian militant
fighters ULFA and Bodo in Bhutan, engaged in the conflicts in neighbouring
Indian states has posed a growing security problem in Bhutan. A
system of village defence committees is used for local patrolling in the
border region. Children under 18 are regularly used for such duties.
Children who failed their school examinations are compelled to join the
armed forces. Families having more than three sons are also
required to send at least one for military service
In the government armed
forces, which has a total strength of 11,000, 5% or around 550, were children
below 18 years. Child soldiers below the age of 18 formed approximately
10%, or around 200, of the Militias, the government paramilitary. Reports
stated that one detachment of 200 soldiers contained 3 soldiers under
15 years, and that another 400 contained 15 who were under 16 years. In
one group of 300 militia recruits there were 25 to 30 "very young
boys". ( Source: Rädda Barnen, Childwar database, citing UN,
Graca Machel, Case Study on Bhutan, 1994-1995).
Several thousand Bhutanese
children were forcefully evicted by the Government along with their parents.
Nearly 45,000 Bhutanese children under the age of 18 are now compelled
to live the life of refugees in Nepal and India. The refugee children
comprises around 14 percent of the total child population of Bhutan.
They are deprived of their basic right to nationality and rendered stateless.
According to Bhutanese law they forfeited their right to return to their
country. Since, 1991, seventeen thousand children were born in the
Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal. A nine-member
delegation of the European Union Parliament visited Nepal.
They also visited the Bhutanese refugee camps in Jhapa, Nepal on April
22, 2000. Mr. Gerard
Collins, leader of the delegation and the chairman of the European Parliament
Delegation for Relations with South Asian Countries and SAARC on his visit
to Bhutanese refugee camp in Timai,
Jhapa, Nepal on April 22, 2000 expressed
concern about the uncertain fate and predicament of these refugee
children born in the refugee camps. He said. "What will happen to
the 17,000 children born in the camps, it is a matter for concern
even for us."
Bhutanese refugee children
are the victims of human rights abuses by the Government of Bhutan. In
the good old days in Bhutan, most of these children were students. Today
they are destitute, who have no present and no future. Although the international
aid agencies do their best to take care of their needs. However, the most
important issue today is, how long these students remain destitute and
what help and assistance can the international community offer to resolve
their problems so that they can go back to their motherland and live a