Not just a helping hand but also a bridge back to mainstream society
The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), with support from Save The Children fund (SCF) will set up Bhutan’s first transitional shelter for children, who are homeless, abused, neglected, emotionally disturbed or face other difficult circumstances.
Called ‘Project Hope – putting children first’, the need for such a shelter, NCWC officials said, was felt after seeing increasing numbers of children begging in different parts of Thimphu and boys and girls being exploited as cheap labour.
For instance, about 15 boys, some as young as five years, at the Thimphu crematorium, beg daily or dive into the river to pick up money thrown with cremation ashes. Some of these boys live in the neighbourhood, while others are orphans, who seek refuge with their relatives at night.
There is also an increasing number of children begging at the vegetable market on weekends, say Thimphu residents.
Children as young as 10, to survive, also work at motor vehicle workshops and restaurants in Thimphu.
NCWC officials say that these evidences have “only succeeded in branding children as ‘badam boys, doma sellers, caddy boys, etc’. But it has failed to trigger any tangible state support, in the form of closer monitoring of parental care or enforcement of legal provisions protecting these children, say NCWC officials.
“Many children are continuing to lose their childhood and opportunity to develop into productive citizens. The shelter will provide a safe haven for children, who face difficult and dangerous situations,” said NCWC director Dr Rinchen Chophel. “The shelter will look after these children, find them foster homes or send them to boarding schools,” he said.
The shelter, which will be funded by a Norwegian philanthropist through SCF, will be located in Thimphu. NCWC and SCF will soon conduct a rapid assessment in various dzongkhags to estimate the number of children, who require shelter support. “While an exact estimation of such children is yet to be done, the Thimphu valley itself has a large number that can greatly benefit from such a shelter,” said an NCWC official.
Officials also said the shelter will not just extend a helping hand to needy children but also act as a bridge to an easier transition into the Bhutanese mainstream society.
“The drafting of the Child Care and Protection Act has been completed, but we are no closer to providing care and protection to the children,” said an NCWC official. “We’re setting up the shelter because there’s a pressing need to support the increasing number of children, especially in Thimphu, who have no or diminishing parental care, support or protection.” The shelter will be managed under the umbrella of NCWC, but the need for continuity and management thereafter will be decided after evaluating the project after one year, said Dr Rinchen Chophel. “We’ve reached the final process and the shelter will soon be established.”
By Phuntsho Choden