Status of Children in Bhutan
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Status of Children in Bhutan



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 itself. 


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.




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 normal life?.

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