Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay’s message during the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Thimphu: Bhutan

Today, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On this important occasion, and on behalf of His Majesty the King and the Royal Government, I wish you Tashi Delek.

The CRC today, is the most rapidly and widely ratified international instrument in the world. It is a matter of great pride for us, that Bhutan was among the initial group of 20 countries that enabled the CRC to become international law. Bhutan also ratified two Optional Protocols to the CRC Convention: one on Children in Armed Conflict, and the other on the Sale of Children, Prostitution and Pornography. This clearly demonstrates our commitment to enhancing and protecting the best interests of our children.

Here, in Bhutan, our people and government have good reason to celebrate. Since the process of modernization began in the early 1960s, children have always been at the center of all our development efforts. Education is free in Bhutan and there is no distinction between the girl child and boy child, either at the time of enrolment in schools or in terms of access to higher education. Net Primary Enrolment is now 96% and, significantly, there are more girls than boys moving from Primary to Lower Secondary Schools. Our important task now is to improve the quality of education. And to do this, the government is undertaking a major school reform program in the country.

We have also made significant advances in terms of developing a strong legal framework and providing the services necessary to protect and promote the rights of children. His Majesty the King, who personally introduced Democracy in Bhutan, also spearheaded the development of the Constitution, a sacred instrument which mirrors many of the principles, objectives and the essence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include the Definition of the Child; Right to Nationality; Right to Quality Education; Right to Health; Right to Protection; and Right to Play and Rest.

The very adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 25 years ago represented a paradigm shift in the way children are viewed and treated – no longer as passive objects of care and charity, but as human beings with a distinct set of rights to be accorded and respect equal to those of adults. As such, it has helped drive remarkable progress for children in the past two-and-a-half decades. Indeed, advances in science, technology, medicine, education and, more importantly, political will, there have been vast improvements in all spheres of the lives of children today.

However, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC, let us not relegate this opportunity to an occasion when we merely gloss over achievements. Instead, we must also seize the opportunity to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead and on the many tasks that remain before us.

In Bhutan we need to celebrate the improvements in the quality of life and enhanced opportunities that our children now enjoy. But we must also acknowledge the emergence of new challenges: too many of our children, for instance, are at risk of falling victim to societal conditions such as low self-esteem, alcohol and drug abuse, neglect, violence, crime, unemployment and even suicide. And all this at the very prime of their lives. His Majesty the King has commanded that: “A nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a bright future when she has not invested wisely in her children”

His Majesty the King’s counsel is profound, and must be taken to heart. It should shake off any sense of delusion that we, as government officials, as parents, as teachers may be under – that all is well and good for our children today. We need to ask ourselves, whether we, as parents, as community members and as concerned citizens ….. as teachers, as public officials, and political leaders are we doing enough to protect our children from these dangers?

As a Buddhist country we are engendered with an innate sense of compassion towards all sentient beings. Yet we continue to hear disturbing accounts of violence and abuse against children. We also bear witness to and perpetuate unacceptable stigma and discrimination towards children with disabilities and their families.

When such conditions prevail we need to re-evaluate changing priorities and values; we need to re-awaken our compassion to promote and protect the best interests of our children. We must look for innovative solutions to transform the lives of all children… and for these solutions to be meaningful and fair they must not only improve the lives of those who are already advantaged, but must advance the rights of those who are most disadvantaged. What we need at the end of the day is to emulate the vision and polices of our beloved Monarchs … to keep the welfare of children at the heart of our agenda for the future. We would then not only serve the rights of our children, but would also be constructively shaping the future of our nation.

It is our collective responsibility, and the government’s sacred duty, to give our children the means to realize their full potential, so that they themselves will be able to secure a bright future for our country.

THANK YOU AND TASHIDELEK

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