Youth is defined by the National Youth Act of 2011 as those within the ages of 13-24 years. It is at this period that the greatest changes takes place in a person’s life as they move from dependence towards independence. The time when they are full of vigor, enthusiasm, ambitions and a time when many relationships are built.
The Kingdom of Bhutan recognizes the importance of the youth in the development of the country, particularly in the decision-making processes as the youth would be able to aid in the decisions that have a bearing on their lives, livelihoods, their future, their families, communities and their peers.
The National Youth Act provided a broad framework for the engagement of the youth that will give them support and opportunities to aid them reach their full potential as they participate actively as members of the society. It addresses major concerns and issues vital for the Bhutanese youth and give direction to youth programmes and services provided by governmental and non-governmental organizations. It also aims to support youth civic action and empowerment; to aid the youth towards the awareness to their role, the nation’s expectation from them and to educate them on the broad policies and directions taken by the government.
An informal and non-party associated organization has also been established by a group of young people. The Youth Initiative for Debate, Deliberation and Development (YIDDD) provides practical hands-on experience on select group of youth regarding national issues and in taking community-based action.
Another group that recognizes the importance of the youth as a voice in the government is the Youth Organization of Bhutan, affiliated to Bhutan’s People’s Party. Among their contribution is youth participation is educating young people and students about government policies, responsibility of the youth and their duties through workshops, seminars and distribution of booklets and literature.
However, despite the seemingly active participation and support for the youth in political participation, a number of the youth stated that they still lack support, especially from the older generations. The idea of the public sphere is generally new to Bhutan because of the long-established hierarchical society; it is currently one of the youngest democracies. To express one’s views or question older members of the community is considered a sign of disrespect. The space for youth participation is restricted in Bhutan, being systematically excluded from decision-making processes.
Among the factors that pose as obstacles to youth participation are the tradition, culture, recent history, the lack of family values and leadership. Even the current system of education is not favorable for youth participation. The people lived under a system of hierarchy for years where decisions rested with people in the higher ranks; thus, without a democratic culture, people would reluctantly express their views in public.
Moreover, the divide between rural and urban youth serves as a barrier for greater youth movements. Language and family background are among the common hindrances, especially for those belonging to ethnic minorities. The language further serves as a barrier towards further education and employment. Rural youth also lack facilities and opportunities to be able to develop themselves and their rural community have less confidence on their capabilities.
Media, however, may be an avenue for the youth to participate in the society through social media communication and information dissemination.
Youth Initiative for Debate, Deliberation & Development: http://www.yiddd.org/about-us/
National Youth Policy (2011). Department of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education.
Suhonen, R. (2014). Youth Civic Engagement in Bhutan: Obedient Citizens of Social Activists? Malmo University.
Youth Organization of Bhutan. (n.d.). Retrieved from Bhutan People’s Party: http://bpparty.org/?page_id=40