The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), with support from Save the Children, has opened a pre-trial detention centre in Thimphu for children and youth under 18 years that come in conflict with law to strengthen the child justice system.
The centre can accommodate 20 children at a time and has different rooms for boys and girls, a separate kitchen and provision for outdoor games and other activities.
This is the second pre trial detention centre for minors in the country. The first one was opened last year in the border town of Phuentsholing with support from Save the Children and in collaboration with Gross National Happiness Commission. A child friendly girl’s hostel was also opened at the Youth Development Rehabilitation Center (YDRC) in Tshimasham, Chukha.
“Thimphu being the largest urban centre in the country, the load of children coming into conflict with law is very high and this is why we felt that this is very much needed and we are happy that we could support RBP with the construction,” said the director of Save the Children office in Bhutan, M.B. Ghalley. Save the Children provided a fund support of Nu 6.5 million for the pre trial centre.
M.B. Ghalley said that as per the Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan children who come into conflict with law are not supposed to be kept with adult prisoners.
“In Thimphu and Phuentsholing, due to lack of space, children used to be kept together with adult prisoners. In 2007, a start was made with the opening of a small Woman and Child Protection Unit (WCPU), however, it was not up to standard,” he said. “Now with the three new infrastructure projects we hope that all children, who come into conflict with law, both offenders and victims, will be kept separately from adult criminals.”
He said similar centres could be set up in other dzongkhags but that would depend on the need expressed by police. “If RBP request and we are able to find the funds, we can come up with centres in other towns like Gelephu, Mongar, Paro and Samdrupjongkhar where juvenile crime is high,” the Save director said.
Chief of Police Colonel Chimi Dorji said the first partnership program between RBP and Save the Children started almost 18 years ago in 1999. “With the constant and consistent assistance from Save the Children, we were able to make a lot of head way in the field of protecting women and children, particularly those who came in conflict with law,” the Police Chief said.
He also said that, in the past decade, there has been rapid expansion and growth of new satellite towns everywhere. As a consequence the rate of crime has shot up and the number of people coming into conflict of law has increased. “We were caught off guard and our detention rooms got over crowded,” he said.
Though law demanded separate detention rooms for women and children, he said the RBP were not in a position to provide it. “At that critical stage, Save the Children stepped in to provide us the infrastructure for women and children,” he said.
In 2007, with the assistance from Save the Children and UNICEF, RBP began construction of the first Women and Children Protection Division office in Thimphu. “For the first time in the history of policing in the country, this generous assistance made it possible for us to treat women and children cases separately and give them the space and dignity they deserve,” the Police Chief said.
Today they have established the women and child friendly desk in all divisions. “Assault and battery is still the highest crime recorded in our statistics today and most of the victims are invariably always women and youth,” he said.
He also said that the RBP needed to have specialised officers and men to handle the sensitive issues. “Save the Children once again helped in developing capacity through various trainings. They also funded developing many Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and manuals for the frontline officers while dealing with such cases,” he said.
He also said that the RBP has been making efforts to change the mode of policing towards a community based one by involving large number of students as partners and to act as goodwill ambassadors in all 20 dzongkhags of the country.
“We needed funds to carry out the program and Save the Children once again helped us and they have supported 12 different phases of Police Youth Partnership Programmes in 20 dzongkhags,” he said.