UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF programme started in Bhutan in 1974 with support to Rural Water Supply and Sanitation. Over the years, UNICEF has expanded its support to the Royal Government and its partners to improve the lives of children, youth and women in Bhutan.

UNICEF Bhutan’s current Country Programme (2014 – 2018) focuses on:

Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition:

Bhutan has made significant progress in reducing child deaths. The country has achieved the Millennium Development Goal 4 target with infant and under-five deaths currently 30/1,000 live births and 37.3/1,000 live births respectively, (according to National Health Survey, 2012). Despite this progress in improving survival of children, newborn death is still high accounting for more than half of all infant deaths occurring in the first 28 days of birth. Inadequate skilled birth attendants, limited equipment and supplies in hospitals and health centres for emergency obstetric and newborn care and delay in seeking health care are key bottlenecks that still need to be addressed. There is a need to enhance knowledge and awareness among parents’ and caregivers’ on young child feeding and nutrition including the nutritional value of food available and promoting water, sanitation and hygiene.

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Many women, mainly in the rural areas, do not come for antenatal care or complete the 8 visits recommended by the Ministry of Health; many still deliver at home instead of in health facilities and do not come for postnatal care. Among those who deliver in health facilities, many do not return for postnatal care. Many newborn babies are still dying in the first 28 days of life. Adolescent girls and pregnant women suffer from anaemia. Children under-five still suffer from pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases, chronic under-nutrition and anaemia. Some parents do not bring or delay in bringing sick children to the health facilities and would prefer consulting traditional healers.

Improving Quality of Education:

With the excellent progress made in access to education in Bhutan, the focus now is on improving the quality of education. This is mainly supported through the Educating for GNH initiative of the Ministry of Education. The Educating for GNH initiative also incorporates the dimensions of Child-Friendly Schools. UNICEF has supported the training of teachers in 17 of the 20 districts. Training in the remaining districts is on-going. Currently an assessment of the Educating for GNH initiative is underway. This will hopefully provide directions for future interventions. According to data in the 11th Five Year Plan the proportion of students who pass in English, Math, Science and Dzongkha at Class VI are 48 per cent, 46 per cent, 43 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. Improving these scores over the current five year programme will need concerted effort at all levels.

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Education for Children with Disabilities:

Currently education for children with disabilities is provided in some specialized centres such as the Drukgyel Deaf Education Unit in Paro, the Muenselling Institute for the Blind in Khaling and 8 other regular schools that are identified as schools that provide education for children who have Special Educational Needs. These are called SEN schools. According to Bhutan’s Two-Stage Disability Study among children aged 2 to 9 years old, 21 per cent were found to have an identified difficulty in at least one functional domains. It is concerning that across the different domains, cognitive disability is the most prevalent at 15 per cent. Programmes of early identification and early stimulation can help in reducing and managing the disabilities in children.

Access to Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) services:

 In Bhutan, only 7 per cent of children have access to organized centre-based ECCD services. There is no dearth of research globally to show that children who receive early interventions and attend early childhood programmes are more likely to perform better in school, are healthier and more emotionally balanced and socially responsible in adult life. They become more economically productive throughout life and also provide better nutrition, health care, stimulation and educational opportunities for their own children as adults. Early childhood interventions contributes to reducing poverty among disadvantaged populations and have a significant impact on children affected by violence, disability and developmental delays.

Child Protection System Strengthening:

Protecting children is an integral part of ensuring children’s rights to survival, growth and development. Though child protection is a relatively new area for Bhutan, significant progress has been made in preventing and responding to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect against children in the country.

A comprehensive mapping and assessment of child protection was conducted in 2011 and a National Plan of Action for Child Protection has been endorsed. The Child Care and Protection Act of 2011 and Child Adoption Act of Bhutan 2012 are important legislative milestones for child protection in Bhutan. The Rules and Regulations of these two Acts, endorsed in 2014, will operationalize these legislations and will enable the creation of a protective environment for children through services such as alternative care, juvenile justice, birth registration, and adoption of protective practices among communities, families and children.

Adolescents and Youth:

Issues related to urbanization is a key emerging challenge with over 31 per cent of the population now living in urban areas. Rural-urban migration has led to emergence of issues related to provision and expansion of social services and adolescents and youth at risk. There is a need to continue strengthening youth networks to build partnerships and empower youth as partners of change to influence and contribute to development priorities. Special attention is needed to expand adolescent reproductive health information and services and to strengthen youth services to reach the most vulnerable youth and respond holistically to their needs.

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