COMMITTEE STARTS CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF BHUTAN ON COMPLIANCE WITH CONVENTION



CRC
27th session
5 June 2001
Morning



Observes Minute of Silence in Memory of Slain Nepalese Royal Family



The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning started its consideration of an initial report of Bhutan by hearing a Government delegation say that Bhutanese children were not subject to any prolonged hunger, but might suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

Introducing the report, Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup, Minister of Health and Education of Bhutan, said that a child born in Bhutan had 92 per cent chance of surviving till the age of 5; and although children would generally not be subject to any prolonged hunger, there was a chance that they would suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies. Bhutan's future plans continued to provide focus on the development of the child and the Vision 2020 document placed children at the centre of the plans.

Mr. Ngedup said that as a small and vulnerable country, Bhutan faced many challenges which had serious implications for its security and sovereignty, including the problem of illegal immigrants -- the issue of the people in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal, and the presence of armed militants from the Indian State of Assam who had infiltrated the thick jungles of the country.

Committee Experts queried the delegation on a number of issues pertaining to the definition of the child; the status of the Convention within domestic law; discrimination between boys and girls; and the situation of refugee children in Bhutan, among other things.

Before beginning its meeting, the Committee observed a minute of silence in memory of the death of the royal family of Nepal whose members were shot dead last Friday. The delegation said that the Royal Government of Bhutan had declared a three-day mourning period in solidarity with the people of Nepal.

Also included in the Bhutanese delegation were Kinley Tshering, District Court Judge; Rinchen Chophel, Joint Director, Health Care Division, Ministry of Health and Education; Sonam Tshong, Head of International Conventions Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Yangdey Penjor, General Secretary, Bhutan Youth Development Fund.

As one of the 191 States parties to the Convention, Bhutan must present periodic reports to the Committee on how it was implementing the provisions of the treaty.

The Committee will conclude its debate with the delegation of Bhutan when its reconvenes at 3 p.m. and an Expert will offer preliminary remarks.


Report of Bhutan

The initial report (document CRC/C/3/Add.60) enumerates the administrative, legislative and judicial measures undertaken by the State in order to implement the provisions of the Convention. It says that children are well taken care of by a society which accords them high importance. The birth of a child, irrespective of its sex, is welcomed. Children born with disabilities and defects are given great care and attention. The fact that there has never been a felt need for the establishment of children's homes or institutions reflects the strength of the nurturing environment in which children are raised in Bhutan.

According to the report, the population of Bhutan is estimated at 600,000 among which 43 per cent are children below 15 years of old. The Government allocates over 22 per cent of its development budget to the social sector. The development philosophy adopted by Bhutan, increasingly referred to as 'Gross National Happiness', emphasises the well-being of individuals over the importance of material gain and is also very relevant to the rights and needs of all children. In 1991, the Government declared 11 November, the birthday of the King, as children's day during which children participate and express themselves through various activities.

The report says that while Bhutanese children enjoy a better life than most of their counterparts in the region, efforts have to be made to maintain the Bhutanese tradition of nurturing the child within a strong family support system. Since the existing laws protect and safeguard the best interests of children, additional laws to cover all the articles of the Convention have not been proposed. In the future, the Government foresees the need to constitute juvenile courts and enact juvenile laws to safeguard the best interests of the child.


Introduction of Report of Bhutan

LYONPO SANGAY NGEDUP, Minister of Health and Education of Bhutan, said that a child born in Bhutan had a 92 per cent chance of surviving till the age of 5; most children would receive immunization against 7 antigens and their growth would be monitored regularly at the nearest health centre. Children would generally not be subject to any prolonged hunger but there was a chance that they would suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies. At the age of 6, the child would be enrolled in a school, which was free. Many would have to walk over an hour to get to the school while others would have to study as boarders.

Mr. Ngedup said that only one-third of students enrolled in schools continued an academic programme in one of the government or private schools while the rest would seek employment or training opportunities. Most children would then aspire for secure civil service jobs but only a few would be lucky. Some of those who were not selected would settle for the jobs available in the fledgling private sector. But few would choose to go back to their farms in the rural areas; they would rather stay with their relatives in towns and idle away their time; and a few of the children would even take to petty crimes while others took to drugs, alcohol and then became a nuisance to their immediate family members and the society.

Bhutan accepted that despite extensive health coverage, child mortality still continued to be high, Mr. Ngedup continued to say. Many Bhutanese children suffered from micro-nutrient deficiencies; primary education coverage continued to be unsatisfactory; and not enough children enjoyed their childhood free of hunger, diseases or care. The Government felt shattered when its well-meaning programmes, particularly the successes in school enrolment, turned children into helpless adolescents and damaged the lives of the generation. Bhutan was responding to that by making the education programme much more holistic. Among other things, it included getting school children to learn some basic vocation-related skills, engaging children in sporting activities and strengthening value education.

Mr. Ngedup said that Bhutan's future plans would continue to provide focus on the development of the child. Bhutan's Vision 2020, a document that had attempted to sketch Bhutan over the next 20 years, placed children at the centre of the vision. By ratifying the Convention, Bhutan had also embraced the belief that the basic needs of children could no longer be ensured in the age-old tradition of parental and societal obligations but had to be enshrined as a matter of right.

Most of the impediments to meeting the rights of the child were also those that hampered other spheres of socio-economic development, the Minster said. Bhutan's late development start, its fragile economy, difficult geography and scattered settlement patterns all imposed formidable challenges to extending basic social services. Equally challenging was sustaining those services.

As a small and vulnerable country, Bhutan faced many challenges which had serious implications for its security and sovereignty, Mr. Ngedup said. Those included the problem of illegal immigrants -- the issue of the people in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal, and the presence of armed militants from the Indian State of Assam who had infiltrated the thick jungles of the country. The resolution of those problems was a high national budget priority in order to assure a safe, stable and secure future for Bhutanese children.


Discussion

Following the presentation of the report by the Bhutanese delegation, Committee Experts queried the members of the delegation on a number of issues pertaining to the definition of the child; the status of the Convention within domestic law; discrimination between boys and girls; and the situation of refugee children in Bhutan, among other things.

In response to the questions, the delegation said that among the main United Nations human rights instruments, Bhutan had ratified only the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Because of the lack of expertise and financial resources, Bhutan had waited for 11 years before it was able to submit its report on children.

Bhutan's parliament would enact a bill strengthening the independence of the judiciary. Further reforms were also expected to enable the judiciary to perform its function impartially and without any interference.

No judge was confronted so far with cases in which the provisions of the Convention had been invoked, the delegation said. However, there were common laws which were related to the rights of child, such as juvenile delinquency.

There were discrepancies between the age of boys and girls with regard to marriage, the delegation said. Boys were allowed to marry at the age of 18 while the marriage for girls was fixed at 16 years. Nevertheless, the judiciary had taken a liberal interpretation of the definition of the child and the age of majority was 18 years for both girls and boys.

Bhutan had a problem of unemployment, particularly concerning the youth, the delegation said; the minimum age of employment was 18 years; and at present, there were 50,000 expatriate workers who were easily replaceable. The lack of vocational training had also hampered the youth from choosing any employment of their choice.

The exact figure of Bhutan's population was not yet clearly established because of the geographical situation of the country, the delegation said. The population was scattered all over the territory, and some segments of the population were not accessible.

The Government was doing well in the south-eastern part of the country despite the security situation, the delegation said. The presence of armed militants in the region had been a matter of concern to the Government.

From 1962 to 2000, Bhutan had taken 22 major undertakings to promote and protect the rights of children, the delegation said. Additional measures were also needed to fulfil the remaining gaps existing between the obligations under the Convention and the activities so far implemented.

In a second cluster of questions, Committee members asked, among other things, why Christians were obligated to drop their beliefs or else leave Bhutan; why people were discriminated against on grounds of their religion; about domestic violence; and the phenomenon of corporal punishment in the family and in schools.