The child rights approach motivates countries to go beyond survival issues, and to move the agenda for development from basic needs to viewing women and children as both subjects and actors for development.
|Rights of the Child
Children at the heart of development
The child is at the heart of Bhutan's development. Children receive high priority in Bhutan, guided by the King of Bhutan who has declared that "the future of our nation lies in the hands of our children."
Bhutan was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and has since been investing steadily in services to benefit children. The government allocated more than 26 per cent of its resources in 1999 to the social sector.
This amount represents the highest social sector spending in South Asia, and surpasses the 20 per cent benchmark on social spending set by the World Summit on Social Development in 1994.
The legislature has also made significant progress in promoting child rights by framing new laws and amending existing ones to protect children. The amendment of the Marriage Act in 1996, and the drafting of the proposed Administration of Juvenile Justice Act are all geared towards safeguarding children's rights.
"Developing a child is like building a healthy nation," said the Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye when addressing a child rights workshop in Bhutan. The Chief Justice pointed out the three pillars of the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- non-discrimination, the best interest rule and participation -- are inherent in Bhutan's Buddhist values. "These social and cultural values protect the dignity, the equality and the fundamental rights of a child," he said.
UNICEF Representative Alegria Mendoza, explained that child rights is now central to UNICEF country programmes. Child rights emphasises a universal principle that makes it "an imperative" to "reach the unreached" and any vulnerable groups.
This is in line with the policies of the royal government. Ms Mendoza explained that UNICEF is taking a child-rights approach to its next country programme in Bhutan. This means making the family, community, society and the government more accountable to their children and to the people they serve.
She described the kingdom as a "positive anomaly" in the South Asian region but stressed the need to identify any disparity or vulnerable groups that now need attention. Several activities have already begun to address the vulnerable groups.
The Education Department is experimenting with special education to integrate disabled children into regular schools and the Health Department is focusing on areas like drug and substance abuse among youth and health and sports.
This change in attitude is the biggest challenge for developing countries. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of a child to survival, to develop to its full potential, and to be protected against abuse, exploitation and neglect.
Another key principle is to provide opportunities for the child for expression and participation. These principles are guided by key concepts: UNICEF Bhutan has translated these guiding principles into a mandala-- blending the Buddhist approach to life with the basic framework of the CRC.
At the centre of the mandala is the child, surrounded by the varying environments, or necessities of his or her world. These include health and welfare, education, leisure and play, identity , expression and access to information, and protection from violence and exploitation.
UNICEF has prepared a resource guidebook based on this framework to promote an understanding of child rights in Bhutan. It is also planning several activities such as debates, and forums to promote children's participation and expression in the lead up to the UN Special General Assembly Session on Children in 2001.
Bhutan today faces changing needs with modernization. Challenges include the rural-urban shift and the rising expectations of an educated population. The poor, the disabled, and unemployed youth are surfacing as current concerns and are becoming new targets for development.
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