The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has negated the National Council’s (NC) stand on legality issue of the Bhutan Children’s Parliament (BCP) stating that “its establishment is very much within the mandate of the commission in letter and spirit”.
The NC had raised the issue of BCP’s legality among others during deliberations on the budget and appropriation bill, which granted Nu 4.6mn to the commission to conduct the BCP elections and sessions during the last summer session of the parliament.
The council members raised whether it is ECB’s core mandate to promote democracy and institute BCP. Responding, an ECB official stated that section 35(a) of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 specifically provides that it shall be the responsibility of the commission to promote public awareness on electoral matters by conducting education and information dissemination programs or other means.
The official said that accordingly, the commission has the responsibility and mandate to promote active civic learning and foster a system that engages the electorate and the general public to ensure that democracy in Bhutan is sustained and vibrant over time.
“Since the future of Bhutan as a democratic nation rests on the children of today, their meaningful engagement right from childhood and adolescence would best ensure a vibrant democracy as envisioned by our Monarchs and enshrined in the Constitution,” he said adding that the process of democracy must engage all the citizens of the country and if exposure to democratic practices happen earlier in life, children would absorb the values and understand the forms.
“It is in this context and with the intention that the ECB initiated the institution of democracy clubs in schools, colleges and educational institutes across the country as a means to educate on the Bhutanese electoral system and processes.”
According to the official, to further develop the democracy clubs and their purpose, the BCP was established with the adoption of its Constitution. It also aimed to provide an opportunity for children to build leadership skills through hands-on experiences and encourage them to be well informed and able to voice their ideas, thoughts and feelings so that their concerns and opinion can be heard. Children would also learn to respect diverse views.
“BCP is only one aspect of a full and comprehensive voter education and awareness program carried out by the commission and especially targets school-going children, trainees and college students with a long-term view. It has neither replaced nor diverted resources and attention away from any other important voter education activity,” said the official.
Council members had also raised that the name “children’s parliament” is misleading as some of the BCP members are aged 20 and above.
However, ECB justified that it is indeed arguable if persons aged above 20 should be categorized as “children” but there appears to be no hard and fast rule on age-based categories for children, youth and young adults.
“In the BCP context, for the size of our population, there is no need for separate children and youth parliaments. The minimum age for a candidate at an election is 25 years so the maximum age for a member of BCP is set at 24 years.”
A total of 205 democracy clubs in various schools and institutions have 7,193 members of which 95% are aged below 20 years while 5% are aged above 20. Similarly, of 89 BCP members elected till date, 83% were aged under 20 and only 17% were above 20 years at the time of election.
The NC had also expressed concern over a possible need to have a children’s minister or commission in future to which the commission stated that the BCP Constitution does not give or assume any authority to form ministries or a commission, or even any kind of committee apart from the executive committee whose role and responsibility is clearly reflected and limited to the BCP functions alone.
So far, the commission has held two BCP sessions the resolutions and reports of which have been submitted to the Royal Secretariat, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Speaker of Parliament, Chairperson of National Council, education minister, Opposition Leader and other relevant agencies.
These resolutions and reports were also uploaded on the ECB website.
ECB also clarified that although the resolutions are not binding in any way and BCP does not claim to be the only forum or lone voice for Bhutan’s children, the commission believes that the BCP offers a view into the minds and aspirations, concerns and dreams of children and therefore deserves to be given due consideration by all concerned.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu