Children who come in conflict with the law are given the opportunity to do community service if the alleged offence is not serious. This provision called diversion in the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan 2011, is an alternative measure of dealing with a child in conflict with the law other than a judicial proceeding. To help children who are sent for diversion programmes by courts, Nazhoen Lamtoen, a civil society organisation, is linking up with seven community service groups in Punakha to set up diversion programmes.
According to the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan 2011, children committing a misdemeanour offence, which carries a prison term of up to three years are eligible for the diversion programme. This opportunity is given to children in conflict with the law who are aged between 12 and 18.
The memorandum of understanding signed between Nazhoen Lamtoen and the seven community service groups lists the services children can take up during the diversion period.
The College of Natural Resources, Khuruthang Youth Centre, Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi, Nalanda Buddhist Institute, and Xplore Bhutan Rafting, and the Punakha District Education sector are part of the MoU.
“In agreement, we have judicial proceeding, if a child is diverted, how it will be diverted and how Nazhoen Lamtoen will divert to the other organisation. So, during this diversion period, we will send a referral letter to those community group, which is responsible for giving community service to that child. In case, if he fails the diversion programme, then the child will again go back to the justice system,’’ said Thinley Tobgyel, the Executive Director of Nazhoen Lamtoen.
However, Nazhoen Lamtoen says the community service groups cannot give hazardous and other illegal works during the diversion programme.
Also, the decision of whether or not to take up the diversion programme will be left to the child in conflict with the law.
Some of the community service providers say the diversion programme is one of the best ways for a child to acknowledge their mistakes and correct their actions.
“We have a programme to create awareness on Nangchhoe. We also have a program of giving training on religious activities. Likewise, we allow learning Buddhist philosophical studies if they wish. Even if the children in conflict with the law want to continue their school, we provide them with this opportunity as well,” said Namgay, a Teacher from the Nalanda Buddhist Institute.
So far, Nazhoen Lamtoen has linked up with almost 30 such community service providers in six districts. About 60 children in conflict with the law availed of the diversion programme.
“We request them to send children who want to become a monk. For instance, if they are sentenced to six months, we offer the programme of six months. Likewise, we have a programme to give them admission as a monk if they wish to be a monk for the rest of their lives,” said Namgay, another teacher from the Nalanda Buddhist Institute.
Nazhoen Lamtoen has plans to replicate similar programmes in other districts in the future.
Changa Dorji, Punakha
Edited by Sherub Dorji