5 June 2001
Bhutan should Establish an Ombudsman Office for Children, Expert Says
The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon concluded its discussion with a delegation from Bhutan on how that country was giving effect to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In preliminary remarks on the report, a Committee Expert said that Bhutan should be commended for its achievements in the fields of health and education. The Government had taken measures to offer its services to children in distant regions of the country. Children should be encouraged to take part not only in the family but also in schools; it was important to carry out studies concerning the vulnerable groups of the society, including children with disabilities; and since education was a tool for development, it should be strengthened.
The Expert said that the refugee situation in the southern part of the country was of concern to the Committee; and the Government should establish an Ombudsman’s Office for children, an independent and child-sensitive institution that would enhance the rights of children and respond to children’s complaints in a comprehensive manner. Bhutan could ask for assistance from international organizations in that respect.
Formal, written conclusions and recommendations on the report of Bhutan will be released by the Committee before it concludes its three-week session on Friday.
Bhutan is among the 191 States parties to the Convention and as such it is obligated to file periodic summaries of its performance designed to implement the provisions of the treaty. A five- member Bhutanese delegation, led by the Minster of Health and Education, was on hand during the two meetings to answer questions raised by Committee members after presenting the initial report. The Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the United Nations Office, Bap Kesang, also participated in the discussion.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m on Wednesday, 6 June, it will take up the initial report of Monaco.
Responding to questions raised by Committee Experts during the morning meeting, the delegation said that Bhutan was a small country between the two most populous nations in Asia and it had large frontiers which escaped full surveillance against illegal migrants, refugees and armed insurgents. Indian militants had been penetrating Bhutanese territory in the south-eastern region, and the authorities had no power to push those armed militants back to India. However, there were no war conditions in the region despite the presence of the armed militants.
Asked about the practice of discrimination, the delegation said that the Government of Bhutan had never adopted discriminatory policies with regard to its minorities. The two main ethnic groups, the Lhosthampas and Sharchops, were treated on equal terms with the rest of the Bhutanese. The allegations of discrimination against the Lhosthampas, who were Nepali immigrants living in the southern Bhutan, were not true; they enjoyed the same opportunities as the rest of the population; they constituted 20 per cent of the public servants; and many of them were sent abroad for further education.
With regard to child custody, the law was not rigid and it could be applied in a flexible way and in situations where it reflected the best interest of the child, the delegation said. A child had the right to choose the parent with whom to live in the case of divorce.
The representation of women in the civil service was low because of their educational standards, the delegation said. The Government had now realized the situation and had addressed the problem by opening opportunities through which women could be enrolled in schools. Other measures were also taken to close the gap between men and women. Rural schools were encouraged to enrol more girls, and the situation had now changed, thanks to the efforts of the Government extending education to the remote areas. Although the rate of illiteracy was high among the female population, the Government had implemented policies to reduce it.
Asked about the persecution of Christians in Bhutan, the delegation said that it was without any foundation and that this was misinformation being disseminated. Buddhism and Hinduism were the two recognized religions of the kingdom. In 1979, the National Assembly resolved that while all other religions could be practised privately, no open proselytization would be allowed with a view to maintaining social harmony.
Bhutan was an egalitarian society where the children of the King and his cook attended the same public school, the delegation said. There was no noble class in the society, everybody was treated equally, and the children of the royal family had the same rights as other children. Recently, a royal juvenile who was involved in an incident which caused the death of a person had been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment.
There was a censorship committee which monitored the publication and importation of "immoral" material in order to protect the society from being influenced by unacceptable foreign cultures, the delegation said. The importation of pornographic materials was strictly prohibited under Bhutanese law.
The policy of "one-nation, one-people" was not a chauvinistic supremacy which excluded a certain segment of the people, the delegation said. The slogan was adopted to promote the nationhood of the country as a compacted, self-reliant nation in which people could live harmoniously.
There was no war-like situation in the southern part of the country where refugees were living, the delegation said. It was at the beginning of the century that contract labourer were brought in for logging operations for commercial timber purposes. They then remained as farming settlers and in 1958 they were given the Bhutanese nationality. When Bhutan embarked on modern development activities in 1961, those guest workers were invited to participate in the process of modernization. However, that situation had prompted the influx of refugees who were attracted by the social advantages provided in Bhutan. The situation had threatened the survival and sovereignty of Bhutan; and it had become a problem to protect the security and the identity of that Buddhist nation. Bhutan could not tolerate an open-door policy towards an immigration which would alter its demography and would dominate it.
The situation of refugees outside the territories of Bhutan had been of concern to the Government of Bhutan, the delegation said. But, those refugees who claimed to be of Bhutanese origin were not true, they were Nepalese and they were kept in camps near the boarder of Nepal. The opening of the camps for the 98,000 refugees was made without due regard to criteria of verification of the origin of the refugees. The Government of Bhutan was ready to accept refugees who were true Bhutanese, but not disguised Nepalese. The problem of the refugees was a immense national problem and the Government would implement the bilateral agreements concerning them.
Committee members continued to query the delegation on a number of issues relating to health. One Expert asked if sexual education was available to children. Others queried about the use of traditional medicines; the law on adoption; the situation of children in conflict with the law; the minimum age for criminal responsibility and the problem relating to the death penalty; and sexual abuse and drug-addiction, among other things.
The delegation said that the country was new to such phenomenon as sexual abuse and drug-addiction and there were no available institutional structures to deal with them.
The use of contraceptives, particularly condoms, was being made easier for the youth, the delegation said. Even around schools, condoms were made available free and without fear. In addition, the Government had published a booklet which explained the reproductive health system and included information on sexual education.
The majority of pregnant women delivered at home as they were too shy to go to hospitals, the delegation said. The lack of adequate numbers of female midwives in hospitals was the main cause that discouraged pregnant women from going there. Delivering at home was considered to be comfortable with local midwives attending the birth and families surrounding the expectant mothers.
In preliminary remarks on the initial report of Bhutan, a Committee Expert said that the dialogue with the delegation had been fascinating and fruitful and had permitted the Committee to look deeply into the culture of the country. It was very significative that the King was participating in the promotion and protection of children's rights.
The Expert said that much had been achieved in the fields of health and education. The country should be commended for the measures it had taken to reach children and offer them services in very far regions; children should be encouraged to take part not only in the family but also in schools; it was important to carry out studies concerning the vulnerable groups of the society, including children with disabilities; and since education was a tool for development, it should be strengthened. Child abuse, corporal punishment and child labour were issues which the Government should look into. The refugee situation in the southern part of the country was also of concern to the Committee. The Government should establish an Ombudsman’s Office for children, an independent and child-sensitive institution that would enhance the rights of children and respond to children’s complaints in a comprehensive manner. Bhutan could obtain assistance from international organizations. In conclusion, the Expert said Bhutan had done a lot, but still had a lot to do.
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