On September 10, the health ministry called on everyone to take a minute and change a life. The call was made to mark world suicide prevention day.
Four days before the ministry made its call, a minor took his life in Thimphu. The 13-year-old had gone to play after school. He never returned.
While his suicide is reported as the youngest case in the capital this year, we have had cases of younger children ending their lives. In 2013, an 11-year-old boy was reported to have committing suicide in Thimphu. A seven-year old girl in Tsirang had also ended her life that year. About five percent or 15 cases of suicides reported in the country between 2009 and 2013 were among those less than 15 years. This means, at least three minors are ending their lives annually.
But what is driving our children to death? Medical professionals cite impulsiveness as a factor since children are cognitively not matured to understand the permanent nature of death and the consequences of suicide. However, doctors have pointed out that unless the children are physically, mentally or sexually abused, or live with parents who do not get along, or get influenced by the media, they won’t attempt ending their lives.
The review on suicide cases had reported that of the 226 completed suicide victims, who were brought up by both parents, 15 had experienced physical abuse, one was sexually abused and 53 had experienced emotional abuse.
Now we have the findings of a recent study that tell us that violence of all forms against children is a common and an entrenched phenomenon in the country. It is perpetrated for a variety of reasons and in myriad ways. Yet, we see foul play ruled out for almost all suicide cases, be it among minors or adults. Investigations into such tragic deaths have become akin to investigating agencies citing short circuit for fire hazards. Little is shared or known about what is being investigated but to the authorities, that’s the end of the case.
This cold treatment of deaths is frightening. And going by the figures, the health ministry’s call to the people to help prevent suicides appears to have gone unheard. From 73 cases in 2014, the national suicide registry recorded 92 cases in 2016. Police records show that between 2012 and 2016, there were 123 cases of suicides among those who were 24 years and below. Suicide deaths rank among the top six leading cause of deaths in the country.
The trend we see today calls for another study. There is an urgent need to review the plans and programmes that have been implemented to prevent people from ending their lives. We need to assess whether agencies that were identified to be at the forefront in suicide prevention are keeping their commitments.
Last May, police signed a memorandum of understanding with the health ministry to implement the suicide prevention action plan. We ask what the action plan has achieved?