Children in Bhutan, in contrast to their parents, are growing up in a different and complex world in terms of economic development, rapid modernization, and increased urbanization. They face new challenges and risks as the traditional layers of protection offered by families and communities are weakened, in some cases as a result of separation, divorce, stress or violence. At the same time, traditional practices such as child marriage and corporal punishment continue to place children, particularly girls, at risk.

Against this backdrop, UNICEF is helping develop systems capable of addressing new risks for children and youth and to challenge harmful practices that have survived the changing times.

There are numerous child protection issues such as child labour, which is estimated at 18.2 per cent and child marriage, with 30.8 per cent of women married before the age of 18. Furthermore despite a proactive approach by the government to abandon corporal punishment in schools, children continue to face corporal punishment and other forms of violence at home and in school.

UNICEF will continue to work with governments and civil society to strengthen the child protection system though ensuring an enabling environment, establishing and strengthening systems and services, strengthening the protective role of parents and communities, and enhancing knowledge of young people on their protection rights and ways of avoiding and responding to risks. At the same time, negative social norms underlying some forms of violence are being addressed and positive practices are being promoted towards strengthening of the child protection system.

Although children are deeply valued in Bhutan, they have not traditionally been involved in decision making. The transition to adulthood is increasingly difficult for Bhutan’s children. Youth unemployment is 9.2 per cent with significant mismatch between the expectations of young people and the current labour market. Vulnerable youth often engage in multiple risk behaviours including

alcohol and other drug use, risky sexual practices, violence and petty criminal behaviour.

In response to a sharp increase in the number of adolescents arrested in urban areas for drug-related crimes between 2006 and 2010, UNICEF now supports several initiatives to address substance use and juvenile crime. These include awareness raising and the establishment and maintenance of services such as youth centers and drug and alcohol services to work with vulnerable and at-risk youth. The Police Youth Partnership Programme has been scaled up to all 20 districts, reaching over 5,000 youths to date. Following its success, UNICEF is now supporting the Police Out-of-School Youth Partnership Programme, targeting at-risk youth including those in conflict with the law. These programs engage young people to participate in real life exercises as community police, building trust and respect in the community. It also sensitizes them on various legal provisions and through peer review sessions helps them critically reflect on real life consequences of coming in conflict with the law.

Creating an enabling environment which fosters child protection but also youth and adolescent participation is crucial and at the center of UNICEF’s work in Bhutan. It involves tackling the problem on all fronts:

The Child Protection and Youth Participation programme thus works towards an enabling environment for the protection and participation of children and youth to ensure their development, wellbeing and happiness. With its focus on the most vulnerable and excluded children and youth, this programme is critical for Bhutan’s achievement of the Millennium Development Goals with equity.

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