This year, the birth day of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was celebrated as the Constitution Day and also Children’s Day. And appropriately so.
His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo often said that children were the future of Bhutan, and that it is important to enable them to bear the responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
It is important that we define who is a child on this day. The age-old adage says that the child is the father of man. The definition may not go down well in the present world context.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Biologically, a child is anyone in the developmental stage of childhood, between infancy and adulthood.
The age at which children are considered responsible for their own actions has also changed over time, and this is reflected in the way they are treated in courts of law. In the Roman era, children were regarded as not culpable for crimes, a position later adopted by the Church. In the nineteenth century, children younger than seven years old were believed incapable of crime. Children from the age of seven were considered responsible for their actions.
Surveys have found that at least 25 countries around the world have no specified age for compulsory education. Minimum employment age and marriage age also vary. In at least 125 countries, children aged 7-15 may be taken to court and risk imprisonment for criminal acts. In some countries, children are legally obliged to go to school until they are 14 or 15 years old, but may also work before that age.
Whatever it is, the children are our hope for the future. Many parents consider them as the staff to lean on in old age. All the more reasons why they should be provided with an enabling environment in which to grow and develop into responsible citizens of tomorrow.
Bhutanese children are getting better education and healthcare, thanks to the vision of the Druk Gyalpos, and the support from International Organisations.
With the changing family and societal structures, new difficulties have arisen for children. Children can be in conflict with the law, they can be in a difficult circumstance, and many times, one usually follows the other.
There have been increasing reports of Children being abused and children living hard lives, in poverty, without education, or without family or a proper roof over their heads for the sake of education.
This is a sign that such problems, while not as severe as other countries in the region, do exist in Bhutan as well.
While education has not been made compulsory for children in Bhutan for various reasons as cited by the government, the existence of a National Commission for Women and Children in the country that dedicates efforts to bring relief to those children who are less fortunate than the others is heartening.
Bhutan was one of the first countries to become a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the government has shown that it is committed to the cause of bringing a smile to the young faces of the nation by honouring the clauses of the convention.
It is a continuous work, in which the media, the government, families, schools and societies, all have a role to play.