“Tick tock KABOOM”

Our hope

Youth crime is a growing problem in our kingdom. And according to the prime minister, “the answer lies in GNH.”

I’m happy that the prime minister has acknowledged the problem: that youth crime is real and that it is growing.

And I’m happy that he has an answer to that problem: GNH.

A good segment of our youth, especially those living in Thimphu, are in trouble. They are scared. They are anxious. And they are desperate.

So if GNH is the answer, let’s use it.

But if GNH isn’t the answer, let’s admit it, let’s look for solutions that could work, and let’s get cracking.

Reports of youth violence, vandalism, theft, drug abuse, rape, gang fights, prostitution, murder and suicides are on the increase. But what we know from the media may only be the tip of the iceberg. The reality, as Xochitl Rodriguez found out, could actually be worse.

Xochitl spent some time in Changjiji last year. And she blogged about what she saw – the suffering and desperation of our children. I’m reproducing her entire article here for our collective reference, and as a reminder of the magnitude and urgency of the work at hand.

“there are no children here”

I’ve spent these last few days in Changjiji. The Tarayana Foundation has kindly sponsored the “Tarayana Summer Camp for Leadership, Art and Hope” in Changjiji. It is Changjiji’s first out of school camp and it couldn’t come at a better time. Changjiji is suffering.

During our daily one hour sessions, each group of camp participants shares their stories with me. They are all between the ages of 12 and 19.

“Madame, I don’t like my father. He is drunk always…he beats and sleeps. I cannot stay there.”

“Madame, I have to fight. We all do. We get to show our fighting styles and show who is boss.”

“Madame, kids go to the bridge to date but they have more than one boyfriend. They are having affairs.”

“We make gang to protect ourselves. if someone comes we slice them”…when asked if they feel bad because other people are frightened, they respond, “no Madame, they can join and also be protected”…when I ask what they are protecting themselves from, the response is “it’s just like that.”

“My friend’s grab my arm and twist. It’s just like that, Madame”…this said with penetrating and somehow gentle intensity in her eyes.

“Yes madame! I went roaming up up up and thats where I had first N10 [a drug]. My head was like this after [moving his small fingers in circles with an innocent smile].”

“Drugs make everything fine. When parents beat or friends beat or parents divorce…its just like that.”

“If older boy says, I have to do, madame.”

“Too scared to walk at night alone, Madame. They will rag [steal] on me. If I don’t give they’ll beat and maybe stab.”

“Madame, you cannot call the police. They will not come and when they come it’s late. They are afraid of the bosses.”

“Madame! Last year I left home for six months tour of Bhutan, didn’t inform my parents. Went for tour of all Bhutan!” When asked if he saw everything he needed to see, his response was…”no Madame, I like to see other places. Much nicer than here and parents will only scold and beat for one day. I was gone six months.”

A 13 year old boy looks at me and says “Madame, I’ll tell you one story. A man didn’t give me 5 rupees for the bus to go to the emergency room. I got my friends and took 500 from him. I just reached like this into his box and took. This is for revenge. I have to show I’m boss.” When I explained that a simple act of unkindness or perhaps greed, or maybe flat out poverty led him to respond in a way that was at least 100 times worse than what this man did, the boy explains, “If I need he should give.”

This is compassion gone wrong. This is defense systems smashing crashing themselves into offense systems. This is unrest in the peaceful kingdom. This is suffering in the land of happiness. This is a generational gap taking its casualties. This is fear unbridled. This is confusion exploding and imploding. This is misguidance and misunderstanding. All of this is very sad.

I often ask myself, how did this happen? Is all this in us as humans? Is there no way to stop it because it is in fact our nature? Is it a fact of nature or is it the absence of proper nurturing? (Oh that age old debate between nature and nurture!)

These young humans are in no way weak. They are, indeed, very strong. Stronger than I can ever remember being when I was a girl. I could probably safely say they are also stronger than I can imagine being now as an older lady. 12 year old boys who know the names of every drug in Bhutan and just how to use it, those same boys filled with fear to walk alone at night because they may wind up in the violent arms of an older boy. 13 year old girls whose friends have multiple sex partners. It is normal for them to see fights. It is normal for them to feel afraid. And still, they smile.

I know a few neighborhoods back home that have hints and pieces of such problems. and of course, there are certain large cities in the U.S. a lady like myself would not even dare driving through, much less walk. However, in Bhutan?

How did this happen in Bhutan?

Parents are not debilitated with fear, parents are not being stabbed by gang members, parents do not even like to admit their children are going through these things, much less taking part in such things. So this only makes me ask again, in a country where its youth are the priority how did this happen in Bhutan?

Amidst an infinite and very complex web of causes and effects I manage to pull something from the sticky strings. That is, the idea of little humans growing up to be products of their environment.

Now, when I observe and question whether these little humans are a product of their environment I cannot ignore the voice in my head telling me this is one of the reasons for the problem. It is never completely a child’s fault when they wind up behaving badly. There are so many factors that contribute to the LOSS OF VALUES that has led them to behave badly. This only leads me to ask how BHUTAN is home to such an environment. It’s important to keep in mind that when I use the word ‘environment’ I am referring to an untouchable thing. I am referring to the workings of a machine that is, obviously, beyond control. I am referring to images and ideas about a world that is only seen on a screen. I am referring to mothers and fathers who are products of their own environments and are perpetuating this new environment. I am referring to the real and honest concern and attention that is missing in the broader realm of what these children are exposed to.

In a land where prayer flags flap in the wind everywhere, where mountains foster peace on their peaks…in a land where spiritual connections are living, breathing, walking beings…where the King plays soccer barefoot with boys from rural villages…how did this happen in a land like this? Has this happened because this new environment (the outside one) came too fast? Has this happened because the two environments that merged together didn’t actually merge…they CRASHED. Though this country’s development model in its great wisdom is designed to avoid the mistakes other developing and developed countries have made, something isn’t working. Perhaps, it’s better to say something malfunctioned. Perhaps I am too close to the matter. Perhaps, the tremendous love I have for this country has made me worry too much. Be it as it may, these problems that might seem normal in other places, are especially heartbreaking to find here. Of course, I’ve always been a bit too sensitive and perhaps I’m speaking too soon.
Perhaps. But then again, Bhutan is small. There are stabbings nearly every week. Children are ‘roaming’ and hiding in friends’ houses instead of going home. 12 year old girls speak of their promiscuous friends. At least half a city is abusing or has abused substances by the age of 15 (please do forgive me if this is inaccurate, but the children and I made an educated guess). Alcoholism is present in adults and youth.

Something has malfunctioned.

I could not say what it is that has malfunctioned. I even hesitate to write these things about Bhutan because I am not from this beautiful place and no given number of hours spent with youth could ever allow me to fully understand the scope of this situation. However, I have to share what I have seen and what the youth I have worked with have shared with me. I’ve always been one for honesty. The children deserve honesty. They deserve honesty because if that’s absent, things will never be better for them.

Now, it must be made clear that Bhutan’s most precarious youth situation lives in Changjiji. It is for that reason that this summer camp was organized there. Sonam Pelden is a counselor at Loselling Middle Secondary School and was instrumental in designing this camp. In her mighty wisdom and because of her admirable concern and dedication, she decided that something had to be done for these youngsters during their summer break. The situation is such that it is, in fact, possible that occupying their idle time like this, could avoid one more fight in Changjiji…could avoid one more stabbing in Changjiji…could avoid one more youngster starting a drug habit. Originally, the participants in the summer camp included 40 students who were nominated by the two school counselors from Loselling Middle Secondary School. These forty children were selected because they were more ‘at risk’ than the rest of the students. They are believed to be the MOST ‘at risk’ in-school youngsters in Changjiji. Unfortunately, most of these youngsters didn’t turn up. 67 other youngsters, however, did turn up!! Of course, this has made the camp a bit more challenging for the volunteers who are guiding the workshops, but we probably all agree, we couldn’t be more excited!

A young girl asked me today, “Madame, why do you like Bhutan?” I thought for a moment and replied “Bhutan gives me hope.”

She smiled and continued questioning me curiously, “But why Madame? You are from America. That’s the best place!” I answered, “Oh my dear, America has many many problems…we’ve just practiced hiding them for a long time. In Bhutan, there are no secrets. If I keep my eyes open I see so many things here. My country will never fix things because we are not always honest. People would rather close their eyes. In Bhutan, everything is very honest [whether purposely or accidently]…so there’s hope to fix it because it cannot be hidden.”

She smiled and I only hope she understood. At the very least, I know she was proud to be part of hope.

Thinking back to the things these youngsters have said to me in the last few days, I can only imagine what the selected students might have to say. My heart tightens when I think of what they might have said. My heart tightens when I wonder what they might be doing instead of attending the summer camp.

It’s unfortunate that they aren’t part of the beautiful things that have been happened in the last four days. To effectively and thoroughly understand the stories we’re trying to tell in our ‘forum-theater’ based performances the little humans and I have been systematically breaking down issues of substance abuse, violence, “affairs”, crime, and sanitation. All of these issues are boiling over in Changjiji.

Our analysis method is simple. We start with one sentence that identifies the problem. 1) “Substance abuse is an increasing problem among youth in Changjiji.” 2) “Changjiji is no longer safe due to an increase in violent incidents.” 3) “Youth in Changjiji are increasingly having intimate affairs with multiple partners.” 4) “Crime and fear are growing together making Changjiji a dangerous place to live.” 5) “Poor sanitation is leading to low health standards and living standards in Changjiji.”

After identifying the problem in one sentence, we identify the causes and effects of the problem together. I ask the youngsters questions and they also ask me questions. At this point, the chalkboard goes white with scribbled thoughts. Arrows shoot from one side of the board to the other showing us how EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED and problems NEVER simply exist. They are always a product of many tiny details compounded together.

After breaking down the drug problem, one youngster pointed at the right side of the board and moved his hand to the left. He said “Madame, if the government stopped drugs in Phuentsholing [Bhutan’s biggest border city and the port through which nearly all goods enter Bhutan] they would never reach Thimphu. There would be no drugs?”

I smile. This camp is indeed a “Camp for Leadership, Art and Hope.”

The youngsters are full of wisdom and insight. They know what is happening they just don’t always understand it. They FEEL the effects of what could (most) simply be described as “tick tock KABOOM” they just don’t always understand how to make those effects postivie…because they’re only children.

The last two days of the workshop ended with 72 children singing “Blowing in the Wind” (a song by the American musician Bob Dylan) in unison. The group, made up of gang members, drug users, victims of domestic violence and more fortunate and innocent youth, sang louder as the chorus came. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…the answer is blowing in the wind.”

I explained before we started learning “Blowin’ in the Wind” that Bob Dylan changed the world of music. He sang songs of beauty to respond to an ugly war-one of the most violent and unnecessary war’s the U.S. has ever been a part of. Rather than responding with anger and violence he sang beauty and the world heard him. I explained that when Dylan was interviewed about his music, reporters would ask, “Are you writing protest songs? Are you writing songs about the war?” and Dylan’s response was always, “Na man…I just write about what I see.”

I explained that Dylan simply told the truth. As his eyes saw it he sang it. He simply sang reality. The youngsters looked at me and nodded that hard and certain nod they rarely use.

As I looked at their faces it rang in my ears…the title of a book by Alex Kotlowitz I read long ago: “There Are No Children Here.”

But there are children here.

They are children.







Facebook Comments:


  1. This is depressing—very, very depressing!!!

    Is this an indication of what most of our country will become in 10 – 15 years from now? For me, it was so painful going through the entire article. We are failing our children and are betraying the trust of our beloved Kings.

    Our leaders in government have “ready-made” excuses to all our problems: “Hydropower” is the answer to all our economic problems and “GNH” is the answer to all our social problems.

    As mentioned in the post, our leaders in government know this problem exists. But just talking about it will not make the problem go away. Most of our leaders will not do anything serious about it as long as it doesn’t affect them and their family directly. We and our children will face the consequences of irresponsible policies, and irresponsible actions and inaction by our leaders in the next 10 – 15 years. By then it will be too late. Even now, major government policies and decisions are still made on “trial and error” basis without much research, strategic thinking, and consultation.

    Our leaders, like politicians everywhere, are big liars. They make big commitments and promises that they never fulfill. They are good at making up stories and excuses, and are taking advantage of people’s short-term memory.

    The growing youth crime, drugs, gang fights, unsafe sex, alcohol, etc. show how irresponsible and disconnected our leaders are from the ground reality. Is this the future of this GNH nation? If we really believe that our youth are the future leaders of our nation, isn’t it important for our present leaders to do a better job of taking care of them—to secure a better future for our nation?

    Under the far-sighted leadership of our Kings, we have achieved a lot in terms of socio-economic development. All basic infrastructure and services and policies and institutions are in place. Today, if we have about 10 – 12 selfless, sincere, and hardworking leaders, Bhutan could easily become a great success story of the 21st Century. I am afraid we are squandering this precious opportunity.

    A few years ago, one of the biggest problems in Thimphu was the street dogs. At night, in town, the barking dogs would keep us awake. Today, there are no barking dogs, but, anytime after 2 a.m. it is the drunk, drugged, and desperate youth and gang fights that keep us awake.

    We know that government alone cannot solve all our problems. It will take all of us, as parents, brothers and sisters, responsible citizens, and teachers, to work together with the government to deal with this issue. But it’s the government’s responsibility to lead us, to inspire us, and to bring us together, to fight this common problem. We know, from their 2008 election campaigns, many of our leaders do a good job of inspiring and leading people.

    As our youth continue to lose hope and their dream, and as the gap between the haves and have-nots continue to grow, Bhutan will neither remain a peaceful nation nor a GNH nation. What’s the point of calling ourselves and our nation a “Choe Dhen Gi Gyalkhap,” if we do not have the heart and compassion to help our own children become better human beings?

    Xochitl Rodriguez wrote the article out of her love for Bhutan. It’s time we ask ourselves, “how do we love our country” –as government leaders, MPs, civil servants, teachers, doctors, and everyday citizens. Our leaders: please wake up and show us the way!!! It’s not too late—there is still a window of opportunity to make Bhutan what it can be. We are all in this together.

    For our government leaders, it’s a crime to know that such problems exist and do nothing about it!!!

  2. Another issue that breaks my heart, year after year, is the forest fire. Winter has barely set in and somewhere in Mongar, more than 600 acres of pristine forest has been destroyed by fire. We are not only losing precious national resource, but are causing huge environmental damage and carbon emission. Beside the stupid ad on BBS, the concerned people and organizations in government are doing nothing about it. Unless, we hold the leadership and people in these organizations accountable, we’ll continue to lose hundreds and thousands of acres of our precious forest to fire every year. This is also inconsistent with our government’s carbon neutral declaration and stand on environmental conservation. Please raise this issue in the next National Assembly session and also in this blog.

  3. The spirituality being missed in the modern setting. Somehow, the parents of those children are under impression that thier upbringing and values are different and cannot be applied in the modern context. And that’s why it may never have been transfered or are not able to apply the values/ spirituality we have in the modern context.

    It is this in the heart of matter. No mechanism to apply spirituality/ values in the modern system that beset with enticements of commercialism.

    Parents and children need to be educated on the values and thier pride invoked, merits of values inspired and thier mechanism to apply in the modern setting given to them. And for such transference, there can be method (skillful means) found- after all we founded GNH – it should be easy!

  4. i want to dedicate my service to the youth but i have had lot of resistance in the past which has really killed my spirits

  5. This is so sad, and also sadly unsurprising. I spoke to a lot of kids and met a lot of others who did drugs and belonged to gangs, and sometimes I just wanted to cry at the things they said, sometimes I wanted to shake them bodily and ask them how they could not see what they are doing. It is not just changjiji. I know little boys who smoke pot in their school grounds after school, little girls who join them. And i mean little, shockingly little. It is time we forget all the abstract ideas to solve these problems, and tackle them squarely, by identifying who these children are, reaching out to them, helping them with what they need. Most of these kids don’t have faith in the system, they don’t feel that they belong to it, for them leaders are some distant boring people who have nothing to do with them. Reaching out directly to them will help them realise we live in a society where law and order is maintained, and some things they do are not acceptable. We have to give them dreams of a better life, and the hope of its possibility. It will be a long complicated solution that will need the involvement of everyone, and it will begin when our leaders stop giving out vague ‘sound bytes’ to the media.

  6. xochiti rodriguez has spent time with these youth, heard first hand their stories & recorded the realities & her concern in a very sincere way..
    bhutanese are aware this is all happening..but like someone said here, the government chooses to only pay lip service.. 
    the decline in terms of values has already set in..tha damtse is overtaken by greed, hypocrisy, materialism & self importance..it is evident from the way bhutanese treat each other, with extreme arrogance !
    it is an irony all this takes place in a country preaching gnh to the outside world while genuine problems faced by her own people are not given the attention it deserves..
    i am absolutely certain that the problems we see today in thimphu will manifest all over bhutan..thimphu in a few years will become even worse to live in..traffic congestion, rude drivers, unemployed youth, drug abusers, unsustainable living cost, crowded unpleasant housing conditions, burglaries, rapes, murders, suicides..just another third world country..
    it’s late to turn these around, but if nothing is done now we can only expect worse to come.. if government does not lead, people cannot follow..

  7. This is something happening everyday in the most part of the country which we call as land of “HAPPINESS”.

    Keep aside of our government leading people to solve such issues, instead they choose even not to talk on such case. there is ego to hide those issues, lets see how long they can keep secrets as secrets.

    TALK, TALK AND TALK = NO ACTION is what our entrusted, respected, higly qualified and ofcourse higly paid too leaders do in our country… if they dont change their un used brain……Bhutan is not going to progress.

  8. Yes, youth problem is real and worrying; but the article falls short of in-depth sociological, economic or Psychoanalytical reasons for youth crime. And, I simply wonder whether there is inbuilt remedial recipes in GNH to solve or answer cause (s) of youth problems!!!. Perhaps, it is immensely irresponsible attitude to brush aside such hugely important societal problem with simplistic answer. We all have to think, suggest solution and implement remedial measures on priority basis. If youth falls society falls. Youth are so important for us.


  9. @Thinlay

    Xochitl was a visiting artist, not the Minister/Secretary of Home.

  10. Paro Penlop says

    Here i think is, the problem mainly arises due to the lack of Job.And it mainly shows that our country is Developing that’s why our youth they try to act such a mischievous things………

  11. I thank Xochitl for stirring conscience of Bhutanese on youth problems. It is up to us to deal with it. Building youth rehabilitation center is not adequate if there is no hope after proper rehabilitation. Without job opportunities they may fall back on same path of hopelessness.

    My personal view is that Government should conduct proper census of unemployed, homeless, parent-less youth and design proper rehabilitation program in terms of giving further education, training, and sheltering them in some government built homes. Those on drug and alcoholic addiction should be treated differently from those with other anti-social behaviors like stealing, vandalism or indulging in street fights. At present, youths regardless of nature of crimes are all lumped together in police detention center. We need to treat each individual differently so that the help and efforts made have useful outcome.


  12. The basic mistake made here is that most posters appear to assume that Bhutan is claiming to have already achieved GNH.

    It is not. What Bhutan is claiming is that GNH is the goal and to achieve it there are dos and donts. Naturally, these dos and don’ts get in the way by increasing costs and slowing down processes and most will resist such impediments since it adds considerable time and costs to do anything.

    To add to this, quite a few officials use this to penalise those they don’t like (whether justified or not) and against those who do not bribe them. So instead of furthering equity and justice (and therefore GNH), the uneven application of the rules and laws create discontent and resentment because some can bribe their way and others can disregard the rules with impunity and these people have such a HUGE and UNFAIR advantage over those who are forced to comply with the rules.

    And as bhutanese society is so small this kind of uneven application is so transparent and easy to see. Nothing can be kept hidden for in bhutan at all. There really are no secrets. All this creates further resentment against the injustice of it all and GNH has become the pet scapegoat.

  13. Bhutan’s ultimate vision is GNH-it’s only a vision. She is not there yet! But Bhutan is trying its best to fulfill GNH. However, existence of such problems cannot be denied-Bhutan is not Heaven with God and Goddesses living in it.
    Having said that, it does not mean that the government is not doing anything to fight those malaise in the country. We ought to acknowledge the noble initiatives that Bhutan has undertaken to protect our children. Let us all try to provide the aerial view of the situation at place, not only the view from one angle.

  14. What Zochitl has written about is one of our problems! We need to be told what is wrong with us, what is wrong about us by someone from abroad! This is because we don’t believe in ourselves or the concerned authorities don’t want to believe in what our local citizens tell them. The problem cited by the lady isn’t anything new, no way. Only we,the Bhutanese chose not to look into it and ignored it altogether and we don’t yet know for how long! We need, very seriously and urgently, the royal patronage and blessings of HM the King to rescue our children immediately. The elected government can’t make anything happen in this case and they won’t. Same reason, same logic will be applied why the govt. can’t and won’t do much on this issue; no budget and have more important things on their agenda!

  15. I not only as a citizen of our beloved country, I as a social worker, sister, friend and well wisher is doing what I can. I personally feel that we individually can do a lot to tackle this youth issues.
    But what measures are being taken by government to tackle out youth related issues? for how long will we have to wait to see the govt. in action?
    Hope is what we still have though most of our you have lost it. Never the less it is not too late to do put things on right track.
    I see hope in our ‘OL’

  16. When people become too dependent on the government and does not realize that the parasitic ideas, such problems give rise to the views in the flaws of Government. I read the article, but the author failed to ask the solution to it. What were the views of the youth for the solution. I think a collective solution finding amongst themselves would drive to right path rather than fearing to walk in the dark and fear of stabbing from the back.
    Further I would blame the parents for their up bringing and never caring for the younger ones. I believe the government is a invisible structure where it oversee all in birds view, when parents with their visible hand could not bring the youth to right path in front of their eyes.
    what i believe is if policies can be amended is to reinstate corporate punishment.
    Further the author and co-author has mentoned so many loopholes, i would like to ask if your were the ruling leader what would be your solution. I believe if solutions are mentioned rather than criticizing for failure, it would go a long way.

  17. The case under discussion occurs mostly in urban areas and each urban area has well defined sub areas like Changjiji, Kala Bazar, Hejo, Jungshina, Taba and so on. Each area necessarily has a thromde thuemi/gub/tshogpa/coordinator and more. What would these people be doing on a normal evening? What are their daily duties? Don’t they have to keep an eye over their neighborhood? Do they have their charter of duties to be performed? Who oversees whether or not they are doing their job?
    We don’t have to look for a consultant to find a solution to this problem. Let’s take Changjiji; then entire property is owned by the govt. which means a maintenance unit is in place. Other than the cops, that colony must have basic security needs covered against theft, against anti-social elements and young children playing around unescorted and unattended by adults. The caretakers of the property must be given some responsibilities. No youngsters will dare to undertake any nuisance if the presence of adults in the area is made to be felt.
    Likewise all the apartment building owners must ensure that their dwelling place is safe from all and everything so that young children don’t mess around among themselves and inform parents first and the cops if things take a more serious turn. Here is where the govt. has to initiate, inform the public to take more civic responsibilities; the mayor can play a vital role here and we have our constituent leaders in every direction of the capital city! Do they only discuss mega projects and forget those small pockets where they got all their votes from? We need BBS to conduct a live forum discussion on this subject with the condition that Dawa doesn’t run out of time, though there isn’t really a time constraint as they have very little program of substance otherwise.

  18. Bhutan is not a happy nation. The instance of violent such as murder and rape has been increasing ever since the GHN-professing PM cae into power. Equity and justice was a powerful statement but the disparities in implementation of rules between the powerful and the common has been growing under the gov that professes equity an justice as its slogan.

  19. Basically this problems arises,because of 1)western movies…..more kids are on internet n watch high school movies which encorages them to hav sex in early teens…and multiple sex partners
    2)I kinda disagree wit family problems being a main cause of drugs….I was in that shoe ones back in school days.fights,drugs,sex,alchole….but I encountered only hand full of people resulting in drugs for their family problems….they will never say I started using drugs because I felt cool…and could gain some attaintion among girls and mates….actually these are the main cause….being queries is one reason and bad company…but this won’t be their if earlier cause are not there….
    3)gang fights are true,its because of being afraid and gainin popularaties amoung them,and engouragement by friends…
    but all this are happening because they think it makes them look cool,feels cool and probable gaining fame….so what I’m saying is implementing and introducing a new way…that could make them feel that doing drugs,fights,theft….sex exeptional ha!ha makes them uncool, cheep and less fame and name….introducing a new fashionable ways,which gives them fame and even finds cool among them,,,,kinda makin bit western cuz all youth wants to be westernized these day…so if we could somehow turn that in possitive…may be through music,fashion, and other ways possible…to change their mentality,I don’t think giving lactures won’t do much help cuz they find it boaring and less exitement

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