One little-known fact about Bhutan is how youthful its population is.In fact, more than 56% of Bhutanese citizens are under the age of 25. Bhutanese youth face a unique challenge of balancing tradition with modernity. While preserving traditional values and culture, young Bhutanese citizens also need to stay current and keep Bhutan in sync with the dynamic global community. Bhutan must address problems that affect its youth and young adults.
Drug and alcohol abuse have become one of Bhutan’s biggest concerns for its youth. Pharmaceutical medicines such as pain killers, cough syrup, and inhalants are among the most commonly abused drugs. Marijuana use is also a large and growing issue, as it grows naturally and is widely available. In addition, the open and porous border with India allows for easy trafficking of drugs.
Bhutan is learning from the global community that we can’t look away from the serious problem of drug and alcohol dependency. We all must be realistic and understand how best to establish treatment and rehabilitation programs. Currently, there is one drop-in center in Thimphu, which is supported by the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF). However, more support and awareness needs to be provided to this vulnerable group. The Bhutan Foundation hopes to support the YDF in reestablishing a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol recovery in Thimphu.
Unemployment among young adults is also a growing concern, as there are not enough jobs for the growing young population. The result of the 2009 Bhutan Labor Force Survey confirmed that unemployment in Bhutan increased to 4%, with more than 80% of the unemployed between the ages of 15 and 25. This means 13,000 of the 325,700 economically active people in Bhutan are unemployed. And of them, 10,500 are youth.
Many blame this on the mismatch in demand and supply, as more Bhutanese citizens are becoming educated and unable to work as farmers or laborers, while the highest economic demand in the country is for construction and manual labor. Also, large numbers of young people are migrating from rural to urban centers in search of employment and better opportunities. Statistics show youth unemployment more than doubled between 1998 and 2005. And with growing unemployment, delinquency, such as petty crime and prostitution, is on the rise.
It’s important for the Bhutan Foundation to continue and expand support in establishing a strong counterforce against these issues—support that includes positive programs for the youth of Bhutan. For example, the Bhutan Foundation supports youth activities by giving scholarships and educational opportunities; promoting sports, arts, and music; encouraging volunteerism; and providing employment opportunities. The Bhutan Foundation offers numerous scholarships in various fields of interest, and is working to expand existing scholarship programs. We also support the Tarayana Foundation’s basic education program, which provides uniforms, shoes, and books to school children from disadvantaged families so they can attend school. In addition, the Bhutan Foundation supports other programs in education to meet the needs of the 21st century and sustain our youths’ interest in continuing education.
The Bhutan Foundation also supports income-generating programs, particularly focusing on girls who have dropped out of school or have no other source of income. We support the Tarayana Foundation and the YDF in various income-generating initiatives focused on rural women and young girls from disadvantaged families. The Bhutan Foundation also supports The Loden Foundation’s Loden Entrepreneurship Program, which provides loans at zero interest for new businesses and encourages entrepreneurship among young adults.
Volunteerism and extracurricular activities such as sports and arts are important to keep youth healthy and engaged. The Bhutan Foundation supports initiatives such as the YDF Young Volunteers in Action network, which mobilizes young volunteers and leaders in urban and rural communities. We also support the Volunteers Artists’ Studio, Thimphu (VAST), an exciting group of volunteer artists who promote art and volunteerism among urban youth.
For a small country with a large young population, Bhutanese youth will play a critical role in the future of the country. It is the spirit of the youth in Bhutan that will be the driving force for a positive direction for the future.