ADDRESS BY THE HON’BLE PRIME MINISTER on Inaugural session of the International Conference on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders Thimphu, 19 April 2017

Your Majesty the Queen,
Your Excellency Prime Minister Hasina,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen;

I wish to thank Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen for her kind presence at this International Conference on Autism and Neuro-development Disorder.

On behalf of the people and Royal Government of Bhutan I would like to welcome all the participants to this event, which we are honored to host along with our partners from Bangladesh – the Ministry of Health, the Shuchona Foundation and the World Health Organization. It is a wonderful co-incidence that the meeting is taking place in Thimphu during the autism awareness month, which is spearheaded by Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen every year on the 2nd of April. Hosting this conference is one more way to strengthen friendship between Bangladesh and Bhutan. This conference is also taking place in the week of the colorful Bengali New Year, POHELA BOISAKH that was on the 14th April. So let me begin by wishing everyone:
SHOBOH NOBOH BOISAKH!

Let me thank Prime Minister H.E. Sheikh Hasina for coming to Bhutan despite her busy schedule. Her Excellency has made this journey in November 2009 right after her electoral victory. She visited again in April 2010 for the SAARC Summit. So, this is her third visit. On the other hand His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck paid two State visits to Dhaka in 1974 and 1984; and again for the SAARC Summit in 1985. His Majesty the King visited Bangladesh in 2011 and with Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen in 2013. Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the government and people of Bangladesh received their Majesties most warmly.

There is an unmistakable bond between Bangladesh and Bhutan that has been forged by our Monarchs and Sheikh Hasina’s family starting with the great Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and His Majesty the Third King.

Allow me to read the text of that historic telex message by His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, on December 6 1971, to Her Excellency Syed Nazrul Islam, Acting President of Bangladesh, conveying Bhutan’s recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign independent country.

“On behalf of my Government and myself, I would like to convey to Your Excellency and the Government of Bangladesh that we have great pleasure in recognizing Bangladesh as a sovereign independent country.

We are confident that the great and heroic struggle of the people of Bangladesh to achieve freedom from foreign domination will be crowned with success in the close future.

My people and myself pray for the safety of your great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and we hope that God will deliver him safely from the present peril so that he can lead your country and people in the great task of national reconstruction and progress.”

His Majesty was then concerned for the safety of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. I had the honour of paying my respects at the simple house that the Father of the Nation spent his last hours and could feel his dynamic and powerful spirit. While his physical manifestation no longer exists, his spirit and his legacy lives on through Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina who is well on the path of achieving Sonar Bangla, which was the vision of the Father of the Nation.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in advancing the agenda of autism spectrum and other developmental disorders in the region and globally.

In our region Bangladesh has been exemplary in integrating the specially challenged community into the mainstream developmental activities. Under Prime Minister Hasina’s leadership, community clinics have been set up to provide healthcare services at the very doorsteps of the people. The Bangladesh Parliament, in 2013, promulgated two Acts to protect the rights and ensure safety of the differently able persons:
The Disability Rights Law and
The Neuro -Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act.
These are just a few of many examples.

Prime Minister Hasina’s own daughter Saima Wazed Hossain has been actively raising the autism issue and was instrumental for its inclusion in WHO programs. In fact, Prime Minister Hasina has acknowledged that it was because of Saima, a child psychologist that the she herself discovered how painful and complex autism spectrum disorders were. Saima’s efforts have led to international awareness, policy and program changes, and adoption of three international resolutions at the United Nations and World Health Organization.

I congratulate Saima for being appointed as WHO’s Regional Champion for autism in South Asia.

I also wish to thank the World Health Organization for partnering with the Royal Government in establishing the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Program in 1999. This program, which is now renamed as the Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (DPR) Program, has been at the forefront in building awareness, mobilizing community resources and providing care for all forms of disabilities.

In this context, I urge WHO to stir countries that do not have proper established institutions those that specialize in autism and neuro-developmental disorders, so that they too can develop effective and multi-sectoral programs. I am also pleased to see the participation and would like thank the representatives from all different pertinent sectors, not only from the health sector, but education, rehabilitation, social protection, early child development and employment training amongst others. Cross-sectorial understanding and collaborations are needed in order to be successful in achieving societal inclusion of children and adults with disabilities.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

In Bhutan autism and other special needs in our country are gaining attention due to the gracious patronage of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen who is also the Royal Patron of Ability Bhutan Society. This NGO was in fact inspired by the vision of His Majesty the King to build a compassionate and just society, which is underlying goal of Gross National Happiness.

Her Majesty has reminded us that we in Bhutan must work harder to ensure the rights of people living with special needs; that we must end prejudice, increase self-reliance and recognize their unique talents and reinforce a community that is devoted to upholding the innate and equal dignity of all people; that we must be grateful to people who devote their time and energy to persons with special needs; Grateful to people like you who are assembled here today.

When we meet children with autism, we feel sympathetic. But that is not what they need. They need more than sympathy; they need our love and understanding; they need our understanding and support at all levels – at home, in schools, by teachers and classmates. On the part of governments, we need the right polices which puts people at the centre of all development policies.

It is a rare and unique honor, that we have the privilege of taking a portrait with His Majesty the King and Gyaltsuen. There is a young boy Kinlay Gyaltshen who has 7 portraits with Their Majesties the King and the Queen. Kinlay Gyaltshen has a neuro-developmental disorder. 7 years ago Their Majesties saw Kinlay Gyeltshen in a crowd among many other people; asked about him and took a picture with him. They soon sent the portrait to Kinlay Gyeltshen. The next year Kinlay Gyaltshen was at the Paro Tsechu with the portrait in his hand, requesting for another portrait. Their Majesties the King and Queen obliged and took another portrait with Kinlay Gyeltshen holding the portrait of the prior year in his hand. So all together, most recently, Kinlay Gyeltshen was honored to take the seventh portrait, holding a portrait in which he is holding another portrait and another portrait, seven times deep. The portraits are unique and special by themselves. But I draw inspiration from them for they indicate the depth of their Majesties’ love and concern for our special children.

I urge all of you – teachers, parents, health workers, civil servants, politicians, and policy makers to draw inspiration from His Majesty’s leadership and join hands to improve the wellbeing of our children suffering from autism and neuro-development disorders, so that they too can lead prosperous, happy and independent life.

The Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, established in 1990s, have expanded its multi-sectoral engagements and actively collaborates with civil society groups and informal networks. We are also in the process of ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A High Level Inter Agency Task Force was established last year in July, which will undertake a comprehensive study of the Convention with the aim of ratification by the Parliament. The consideration of ratification of the Convention by Royal Government comes at an important juncture because with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by UN member states, it is incumbent upon the global community to take concrete steps to build an inclusive society for persons with disabilities in order to reach the goal of “Leaving no one behind”.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I see this Conference as a major opportunity to come up with strategies and priority actions that can help accelerate progress towards addressing autism and neuro-developmental disorders in our individual countries as well as, collectively, in our region.
In this age of innovations, speedy technological developments and miracle drugs, we hope science can soon find answers to address autism and neuro-developmental disorders. In the mean time, your hard work and dedication; your love and compassion; your generosity of spirit constitute effective treatment for the wellbeing of the people and their families living with autism spectrum disorder and neurological disorders.

I wish the conference fruitful deliberations and success. I hope you have a pleasant stay in our country.

Thank you and Tashi Delek!

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