Conversation Report: Bhutanese Youth -Their Aspirations, Concerns, and Mandate
Volume 7, Issue II of The Druk Journal titled Bhutanese Youth-Their Aspirations, Concerns and Mandate was published in November 2021. The journal consists of 17 articles from 18 different writers including 6 youth taking a look at the current situation of youth, the impact of these trends on society, and the responses initiated as well as specific actions needed for long term social wellbeing.
A total of 1000 copies were printed and 352 copies of the two issues were distributed to institutions around the country including the schools, colleges, the parliament and government organisations and the rest through various BCMD activities.
The Druk Journal (TDJ) conversation for Volume 7, Issue II of The Druk Journal titled Bhutanese Youth -Their Aspirations, Concerns and Mandate was organized on November 30th and December 15th, 2021.
- On November 30th, the panel consisted of an eclectic mix of 4 speakers who contributed articles on the themes of mental health, children with special needs, LGBTI ( in full please) and technical and vocational education and training. Overall, 21 participants were present (8 male, 13 female); teachers and counsellors from various schools, representatives of civil society organisations, the UNDP country representative and the dean of the Jigme Singye Law School.
- On December 15th, 2021, three speakers who contributed articles to this issue of TDJ discusses the themes of combating child sexual abuse in Bhutan, climate change and youth status in the country. This conversation was directed towards including educators and youth therefore a larger group of 46 participants were present (15 male, 31 female); teachers, youth (recently graduated from university), members from civil society organisations.
Both the sessions were moderated by the Editor of The Druk Journal, Dasho Kinley Dorji.
Norbu Wangchuk, Director, Department of Technical Education, Ministry of Labor and Human Resources shared that TVET is often viewed as a degrading field of work. Therefore, the Ministry is working towards incorporating various skills that are relevant and responsive to the youth and working towards making it an attractive field of choice for young people. He also argued that skilling youth is fundamental for a vibrant and resilient economy.
Sangay Choden Namgyel, a lecturer and programme leader of clinical counselling at the Nursing and Public Health Faculty (Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences) talked about adverse childhood experiences (ACES) as a leading contributing factor to youth mental health problems. Preventive measures such as identifying characteristics often labelled as misfits and correctly diagnosing them with the right intervention during childhood can lessen the risk of mental health problems. The importance of continuing the counselling services to provide emotional support was highlighted.
Prashanti Pradhan is a co-founder and current Chairperson of Phensem (Bhutan’s first registered parent support group for caregivers of children/persons with disabilities) stressed on striving toward building an inclusive education system for people living with disabilities. Not providing the right platform and opportunities to children with disabilities can increase their dependency on the nation-state in the longer run. Limiting education to literacy and broadening that to include aspects such as learning to coexist is vital in ensuring a holistic approach to education. Additionally, she shared that financial assistance to parents raising children with disabilities is necessary for ensuring access to education.
Tashi Tsheten is the co-founder of Queer Voices of Bhutan, an Executive Board member of ILGA Asia (The Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Trans and Intersex, Association) reminded us about the prevalent stigmatisation of the LGBTI community and the need to address this. He shared his experience of learning about sexual identity through self-exploration and the need to integrate these topics into the education system. He shared the challenges for LGBTI members who face bullying at school and difficulties in accessing toilets. Tashi stressed the need to raise awareness of fostering an inclusive and safe culture at school for LGBTI people.
The Assignment Editor in Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper outlined the different challenges that youth face; prostitution, conflict with the law, addiction to alcohol and drugs, mental health issues. Tashi Dema said that factors such as child negligence, unsafe home environment and access to various information from the internet contribute to some of these youth issues. She also found out that there is tension between parents and the teachers when it comes to taking responsibility for the youth and the need for cooperation between the two. She said there are many policies but they remain on paper and are not fully implemented. As for youth wanting to return to rural farms, many are discouraged by their own family members as it’s not generally accepted for the “educated” to return to farms. There is a need to translate the existing policies such as the National Youth Policy into action and highlight the role of teachers and CSOs in guiding the youth.
Dr Meenakshi Rai, the Programme and Service Director in RENEW ( Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women), expressed her concerns about the negligence of the children in difficult circumstances and the prevalence of child sexual abuse. She pointed out that sixty per cent of abuse victims knew their perpetrators. The passive role of parents, institutions and schools in reporting or taking account of the reported incidents creates taboo on reporting sexual abuse cases. She concluded that raising awareness on these issues, working together with the schools to educate parents and children and providing a support system to the vulnerable groups is necessary. There are strong policies in place and the political will is there, but people and families need to step up on taking care of their children.
Namgay Choden works for the Ministry of Foreign affairs at the climate change desk shared that climate change is interlinked with economic opportunities, therefore this topic is relevant to young people who will be facing the impact of climate change in the near future. Therefore, it is crucial that youth understand structural issues contributing to climate change, take action and seek inter-generational allyship to mitigate climate change.
Recommendations from the conversations that followed are summarised
Inclusive education for vulnerable groups (Disabled children + LGBTI )
- Identification of barriers in institutions’ infrastructural design to programmes for children with disabilities, and addressing them to develop an inclusive learning environment capable of catering to children with special needs. ( what does this mean? Unclear)
- Need to relook at the existing assessment and examination format. Education institutions need to find ways to enable children with special needs to write their exams including permitting the use of technology etc. Examples given include teachers deducting marks for poor handwriting for children with special needs.
- The inclusion of children with disabilities needs to start as early as from ECCD.
- Looking beyond vocational training for children with disabilities.
- Consider tax waivers/ incentives and financial assistance to enable families of children with special needs to improve accessibility to equipment, services and special support.
- LGBTIQ youth are often bullied in schools, increasing the likelihood of dependency on destructive coping mechanisms. Therefore, education institutions should work towards nurturing an inclusive and safe environment for these groups.
- Relevant stakeholders to work together in raising awareness and work towards easier access to information regarding sexual identity and gender equity
- Educate parents on adverse childhood experiences and their consequences on mental health as a preventive measure.
- Young people lack social support in availing counselling services; the timing of the services need to be made convenient.
- School counsellors are overstretched e.g. there are often just two counselors for a school of 1,500 students; need social workers to provide social support in the communities; cross-sectoral collaboration is key to reaching the services to the needy.
- Teachers to be trained in counselling, so the school can cultivate a safe environment at schools.
- Lack of resilience and ability to handle new developments, change and social needs. Introducing spiritual education to help build resilience.
- Lack of awareness of the difference between counsellors in schools and social workers. With increasing social issues, need proper expertise and people in the field. Counsellors tend to have psychological needs while social workers follow up on cases with families, the community etc.
- Inadequate staff in rehabilitation centres, therefore critical to hire more social workers, psychiatrists and counsellors.
- While legislation is in place, implementation is a problem. e.g. youth in conflict with the law do not get their NOCs, and this limits their opportunities to re-integrate into society.
- To bring children into school to build on their interests, through hobbies and courses.
- Focus on early education years to ascertain youth interests and provide skills training.
- Cross-sector collaboration is key; youth with various needs can be referred to others who can help be it skilling, counselling, etc.
- Is the government conducting all the TVET programmes on its own? The potential and need for the government to work with the private sector, CSOs etc in skilling activities and programmes.
- Educate youth on the relevance of climate change to our lives; make them see the connection between impacts of climate change and economic opportunities for them.
- Raising awareness among youth on their sense of agency – personal responsibility and fostering intergenerational ally ship to tackle climate issues.
Child Sexual abuse
- Schools should have SOPs ( standard operating systems) for reporting sexual abuse cases.
- Teachers and school counsellors play an important role in identifying children in difficult circumstances and they are to be educated on how to identify and make appropriate referrals of cases.
- Legal termination of unwanted pregnancy (in case of rape) should be the right of the pregnant woman and no other family member. ( Check – if the person is under 18, then parents need to be brought into the discussion) Also, termination of unwanted pregnancy is a lengthy process in Bhutan while the fetus keeps on developing. This issue needs to be addressed to protect girls and women.
Protecting children and general comments
- There is a lack of understanding of the differences between counsellors and social workers who follow up on cases especially with children in conflict with the law, and children in difficult circumstances. Many agencies lack social workers and this could be the reason for the relapse in many cases involving CICL.
- Introduce spiritual learning to enable youth to learn to cope with change and to be more resilient.
- The current Education reforms are yet to address the problems that continue to persist. Personal transformation is not just about academic success but how you can create a GNH society.
- TDJ conversations give schools and people outside the system a chance to talk about critical issues. People revamping systems and designing curricula cannot do it in isolation.
Improving the socio-economic status of youth
- There are many sports facilities in urban Thimphu not affordable for middle-class children, there is a need to increase access to recreational services for youth.
- The selling of alcohol to underage children should be strictly monitored by the relevant authority. A proposal is to restrict children under 18 from buying alcohol in stores for their parents, family etc.
Instead of the current tendency of children and youth in schools learning to fit into a system, create a learning environment that enables them to discover their own strengths, interests and abilities.
The conversation video for November 15th is available on BCMD’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJnCTQERIII