Pepo Lepche was 16 when he was detained for five years at the Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre (YDRC) in Tsimasham in 2009.
Pepo spent his detention term learning various vocational skills at the centre and while attending school in Chukha. He completed his Class XII in 2012. However, he had to remain at the Centre to complete his term.
Finally, in 2015, Pepo was free to go home.
“I wanted to do something, work, earn and lead a decent life,’ said Pepo, who is now 26 and studying hospitality and chef training in Singapore. “As soon as I came out, I got the opportunity to work as an intern at psychiatric ward at the hospital. With the help of late Dr Pakila Dukpa, I got an opportunity to study at Faculty of Nursing and Public then called RIHS.”
At the centre, Pepo tried hard to change.
Once out of the centres, it wasn’t easy. He was judged by his past at YDRC by the other hospital staff and the society at large. Then he could not obtain security clearance from the police.
“I lost the opportunity since the cooling period for my security clearance was two years. Except for late Dr Pakila, no one accepted me back in the society,” Pepo said. The vocational skills he acquired was not recognised anywhere. He almost became recidivist until his brother managed to help him and found a course in Singapore for Pepo.
Like Pepo, many have lost opportunities after coming back from the centre. Although the rehabilitation is aimed to engage and rehabilitate offenders, the society and the system makes it difficult for the juveniles to re-enter the society.
Many juveniles that Kuensel talked to shared they desire for a second chance and a new life.
According to the executive director of Nazhoen Lamtoen, Thinley Tobgay, when juveniles are released from the YDRC, the first thing they need is aftercare, which is missing.
Namzhoen Lamtoen, a civil society organisation, was formed to give such care by providing jobs, and if possible to continue education, provide counselling and skills development training to the offenders.
Since its founding in 2017, the organisation has supported many children in difficult circumstances, children in conflict with the law, youth at the risk, and youth who are underprivileged and vulnerable.
Thinley Tobgay said that it was not easy to help youths find a job because of the security clearance requirement. The vocational skills they learn at the centre are not recognised. “Nobody accepts them in the job market.
And he asked: “How can juveniles aspire to renew their life when there is no support after they are out of the centre?”
Thinley said this was totally in contradiction to The Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan 2011. The Article 236 under the Protection against Legal Consequences and Social Stigma under Chapter 16 of the Act, states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, a child who has committed an offence and has been dealt with under the provisions of this Act shall be expunged and not suffer any disqualification attaching to a conviction of an offence under this Act.”
Government’s intervention, Thinley said, was required because the law and ground reality did not match, which led to recidivism.
“Many youth preferred YDRC because they are not judged there or have to face humiliation.”
Thinley said that this issue was raised in every meeting or other platforms to the relevant stakeholders but no visible change was observed. “The whole purpose of correcting the juveniles is ultimately defeated.”
Even the vocational skills they learn during their stay at YDRC, Thinley said, did not match with the current market demands.
“The youth, whenever talk with them, show interest in learning vocational skills. The government must come up with measures to certify and provide the facilities,” he said. “The youths need our support and encouragement.”
With 90 percent support from Save The Children, Nazhoen Lamtoen is currently helping 23 children in conflict with law and 156 children in difficult circumstances.
Meanwhile, Pepo aims to open a restaurant once he is back home. “It’s like torture for us to face the society. The system incriminates us.”
Yangchen C Rinzin