This was the cost of 14-year-old Sunil Limbu from Tendruk gewog, Samtse whose mother allowed 40-year old Phub Nidup originally from Haa but now resettled in Samtse to hire her son.
According to the boy’s mother, Gori Maya Limbu, who has four other children, Phub Nidup hired Sunil for a period of one year as a cow boy.
She consented when he came to their place repeatedly asking her to give him the boy.
However, Phub Nidup said that they had a two-year term agreement made on 1 Nov 2010.
Gori Maya said she does not remember signing such an agreement.
The statements the two gave were also conflicting because Gori Maya said her child was hired in 2009 which means it was more than two years since he started working for Phub Nidup.
Gori Maya said her son was in Samtse for nine months and he was then taken to Haa without consulting her. Sunil Limbu was reportedly kept in Haa for two years.
Asked to return her child, Phub Nidup turned a deaf ear though he justified his stance saying that the child was unwilling to leave him at the point of time.
Tendruk gewog Gup Pema Wangchuk said, he investigated the case after the mother complained. Considering it to be a serious issue he informed the police.
The Sibsoo police said that the case was reported on 30 April. They asked Phub Nidup to bring back the child who was at Haa and the boy was finally returned on April 9.
Police said Gori Maya withdrew the case after coming upon a mutual agreement with Phub Nidup.
Since the child, according to Phub Nidup, was returned before the agreed term ended, Gori Maya had to pay the former a sum of Nu 3,250. But she was exempted from paying.
What perhaps is more disturbing is the fact that an official of Sibsoo police station said such practices are “common” in the area.
“People come here to complain about cases like this frequently.”
The Labor and Employment Act of Bhutan 2007 states the employment of a child between 13 to 17 years of age shall be limited only to the categories of work and in work places as specified in the rules and regulation to this act subject however, to the conditions laid down under section 9.
This particular incident was a case of debt bondage which falls under section 9 (a) of the Labor Act, said labor officials.
The Act says a person who contravenes section 9 shall be guilty of offence which shall be felony of the third degree.
But labor officials said, “We don’t have the right to take action on private cases,” adding that no cases have been reported but such incidents occurring is a possibility they cannot rule out.
Bhutan’s Strategy Paper entitled Bhutan 2020, A Vision for Peace, Prosperity and Happiness states “Basic education is an inalienable right of every Bhutanese”.
The government’s vision is to gain 100% universal primary school full enrollment.
However, Gori Maya said, “We could not afford to enroll the child so we kept him to work at home but now I have realized that I should enroll him in school.”
The Tendruk Gewog Gup said that now school admissions are easier unlike previous years so she must have changed her mind with regard to educating her son.
National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) reports of 2009 revealed proxy prevalence of 28% of children between 5-14 years engaged in some forms of work and the fact that they were not enrolled in primary schools.
The NCWC report also stated that Bhutanese children enter the labor market because of three main reasons; poverty, broken families and lack of farm hands.
The Constitution of Bhutan also states that “The state shall provide free education to all children of school going age to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on basis of merit.”
But the problem of child labor in Bhutan continues to persist either in secret or openly as displayed in the above case despite there being Labor Act policies that are supposed to protect children’s rights.
The Act defines someone below 17 years of age as a child in Article 171.
However Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Article 1 states that a child ‘means every human being below age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier’.