The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Whose baby

In recent days several media reports have brought up an issue that is not quite on the campaign agenda – abandoned newborns.In one case, some villagers heard the cries just in time to save him.  Two days ago, children playing near a housing colony in Thimphu mistook the head of a newborn to be that of a doll.  It is assumed that strays might have eaten the body.This is not the first time babies have been abandoned and it is definitely not the last.  On the contrary, word about babies being abandoned is heard so often that it is no longer considered news. There is also feedback from readers, who do not want to read about a baby being found in the bin, or by the riverside, or in the drain.Yet the fact is that this is a serious and complex issue with moral and ethical implications  with no easy ready-made solutions.While babies born out of wedlock have been an issue even in traditional Bhutanese society, the social fabric was such that the baby was eventually taken care of, not discarded. Today, contemporary Bhutanese society just does not know how to handle such situations.There are laws in place nowadays to penalise those that resort to such actions, but laws themselves do not solve the problem, apart from sending a message to deter such behaviour.Some even question whether it makes any sense to penalise the mother, for example, who in most cases is a teenager, either in or out of school.It is obvious that social stigma, maybe even poverty, is driving such actions.  But even for the teenage mother, she must be wishing death to commit such an inhuman act. Yet the embarrassment to herself and her family summons the courage.  This is in contradiction to the fairly liberal society that Bhutan likes to see itself as.So what can be done to prevent young teenage mothers going through such a painful experience?Legalising abortions is out of the question, because many believe that goes against the very values and principles Bhutanese society considers itself to be built upon.  This has led some to try the dangerous clinics across the border at a late stage, which has resulted in complications and death in some cases.Perhaps the best way to go about dealing with the situation is greater awareness through sex education in schools and institutions, particularly for the age group on the verge of becoming sexually active.  Some kind of introduction on the subject is happening in schools that is perhaps not enough.There could be other interventions, such as a place where teenagers caught in a situation can seek refuge.  Changing the rules so that a baby without a father can get a census might also help


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