State of the nation’s youth

The UNICEF report titled “A Situation Analysis of Children, Youth and Women in Bhutan (2012)” states that more than half of the country’s population is below the age of 25. Around 0.3mn are aged 18 or younger which accounts to 42 percent of the population. About a third of total population comprises adolescent youth aged 10 to 24 and 23.7 percent adolescents under the 10 to 19age group.

This youth bulge is considered the major factor for the high unemployment rate.

The report also noted that growth in employment opportunities has not kept pace with the population growth, especially with that of the youth. Similarly, the limited intake capacity in higher, tertiary and vocational education has contributed to the number of unemployed young people.

In 2012, Bhutan’s total workforce was estimated at 336,391 or 45.7 percent of the country’s estimated population of 734,850 with the overall unemployment rate estimated at 2.1 percent. However, for youth between 15-24 years of age, the unemployment rate had fluctuated from 9.7 percent in 2006 to almost 13 percent in 2009, and is now estimated to have fallen to 7.3 percent in 2012. The data also shows that female youth unemployment has declined prior to the previous years.

The report recommends that employment is mostly saturated in public sector and requires improvement in the absorption capacity of the private sectors.

“With an average of about 8,900 youth unemployed every year, the government foresees other consequences, including loss of independence, low self-esteem and high frustration among youth, leading to risky behavior, drug abuse and potentially social unrest and crime,” the report stated.

It was also found that young people are shifting towards risky behaviors such as, substance abuse and unprotected sexual contact. It found that drug and alcohol abuse by young people have become one of Bhutan’s biggest concerns. Pharmaceutical medicines such as, painkillers, cough syrup and inhalants are among the most commonly abused drugs.

Young women are found to be more vulnerable to issues related to adolescent sexual and reproductive health than men, including forced sex, rape and teenage pregnancy.

According to the Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS), approximately 25 percent of youth aged 20-24 years in Bhutan have been married before the age of 18, and 15 percent have given

birth to a child. It also shows that women from rural demographics, poor households, orphaned and with no formal education are likely to get married or give birth to children before the age of 18 years creating negative effect on women’s educational and health prospects.

With regard to teenage pregnancy, as recorded in the WHO statistics, the adolescent fertility rate in Bhutan in 2009 was 38 births for every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19, compared with the WHO South-East Asia regional rate of 54. However, BMIS 2010 provides a significantly higher adolescent fertility rate of 59, with highest levels in Gasa (332), Pemagatshel (163), Zhemgang (150) and Mongar (138).

Till October 2010, 15 to 19 years old youth was found to have 10 percent of all types of urethral discharges, 10 percent of all other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and 15 percent of all kind of ulcers. Genital ulcers rose to 25 percent among the 15 to 19 age group.

High levels of STIs were recorded in Thimphu with 20 percent of men and 29 percent of women according to the 2010 Rapid Assessment on Sexual Behaviors and Networks.

Assessment of vulnerable and at risk adolescents (13-18 years), found that tobacco and alcohol consumption were common among ones living in urban centres.

In terms of violence, the report stated that 52 percent of survey respondents reported that they have been bullied, with proportion of males higher than that of females, at 57 percent and 47 percent respectively. Most bullying took place in schools, followed by streets or gang violence.

About 17 percent of the adolescents in the survey had not completed formal education, and this was often reported as a factor leading to feelings of low self-esteem.

Education, health, well-being, employment, environmental education, awareness and action, social environment, cultural and identity, recreation and sports and youth empowerment, among others, are expected to play a critical role in implementing the four pillars of Gross National Happiness as identified in the National Youth Policy(NYP) 2011.

The report recommends that government step up life-skills education and initiatives to keep young people, especially young women in school, strengthen youth networks, empower youth as partners for development and agents of change. It also stressed on strengthening the accessibility of youth- friendly services.

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