Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 June 2023, 11:08 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Bhutan

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Bhutan, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 8 June 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: unclear 1
Government Armed Forces: 9,000 (2)
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 18 (3)
Optional Protocol: signed 15 September 2005
Other Treaties: CRC

There were no reports of under-18s in government armed forces, but armed political groups were recruiting from among refugees in eastern Nepal and there were reportedly many children among them.


In December 2006 King Jigme Singye Wangchuk stepped down and handed over the crown to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The king had given up some of his absolute powers in 1998 and directed that a written constitution should be drafted and elections held. As of mid-2007 a draft constitution was in circulation and political parties had started to register. Elections were scheduled for 2008.

Tension in south-east Bhutan decreased after military operations in 2003 and 2004 against three armed separatist groups from north-east India – the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland and Kamtapur Liberation Organization – who had set up camps in Bhutan. During that period it was reported by Bhutanese and Indian officials that 30 camps had been destroyed and 650 combatants killed or taken into custody. Bhutanese authorities also said that up to 65,000 local people had been moved for their safety. There were further unconfirmed reports that Bhutanese civilians suspected of supporting these groups had been arrested and tortured.4 Family members of ULFA members, including 27 children reportedly captured during the operation, were said by the government to have been handed over to Indian civil authorities.5

More than 100,000 refugees from southern Bhutan had remained in refugee camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. In October 2006 the United States (USA) offered to resettle 60,000 of the refugees. Several other countries expressed similar interest. In this context the UN refugee agency UNHCR started a mass campaign to inform refugees of their individual right to choose resettlement, and the relevant procedures.6 There was tension in the camps between refugee leaders in favour of resettlement, and others who opposed it and who continued to campaign for a return to Bhutan. In late May 2007 the tension resulted in violence in one of the camps, when two teenage refugees died and others were injured. A third refugee was killed in a confrontation with Indian police forces around the same time, when thousands of refugees attempted to march across the border into India on their way back to Bhutan. The march was allegedly planned to coincide with a mock election organized by the Bhutan government as part of an educational exercise in the run-up to the 2008 elections.7 It was reportedly organized by the Bhutan Movement Steering Committee, consisting of three political parties in exile (the Bhutan People's Party, the Druk National Congress and the Gorkha National Liberation Front).8


National recruitment legislation and practice

The minimum age for recruitment into the military was 18.9 During the 87th session of the National Assembly in June 2007, the commander of the army confirmed that the army strength was just over 9,000 soldiers, and announced that it was to be reduced to around 8,000 by the end of 2008.10

Armed Groups:

During the National Assembly's 87th session, in June 2007, it decided that recruitment and training of militias should start by the beginning of 2008. This was an apparent reversal of a decision made during a 2005 Assembly session not to proceed with the recruitment of voluntary militias, but to strengthen the army instead. The Assembly also resolved that the Royal Bhutan Army should decide the age limit, qualifications and training centre for the militia training.11 According to the government, by mid-2007 full details of the upcoming recruitment process had not been finalized. The government also stated that none of the 700 militia volunteers recruited earlier, in 2003, remained active.12

There were reports of increased activity by two armed political groups, the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) (BCP) with its youth wing, the Bhutan Revolutionary Youth (BRY); and the Bhutan Tiger Force (BTF) in southern Bhutan in early 2007. The main political objective of both groups was the repatriation of the refugees from camps in eastern Nepal. Both groups were said to be recruiting in the refugee camps, including from among children younger than 16 years old.13 Recruitment was reported to be most common from Beldangi 1 and 2 camps. There were further reports of weapons training for new recruits in the forests near these camps. According to government sources, the BCP had a recruitment campaign inside Bhutan.

Both the BTF and the BRY allegedly claimed responsibility for planting several explosive devices in Phuentsholing town, Samtse district in early 2007.14 Thirteen people were arrested in this regard and were awaiting trial under the National Security Act and the Penal Code.15 The explosions were allegedly planned to coincide with the mock election organized by the government in the run-up to the 2008 elections.


International standards

Bhutan signed the Optional Protocol in September 2005.

1 Estimates of the population vary widely even among different agencies in the UN system. The Bhutanese government's population and housing census gives a figure of 672,425 (2005); the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources gives a figure of 537,900 (October 2006) (cited in Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper, 20 June 2007). The UN statistics division gives a figure of 658,500 (2007), and the World Bank gives a similar figure, of 0.6 million (2006). Other UN agencies, however, notably the WHO, UNICEF and the UNDP, give figures in the region of 2 million. UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2007 (the source of the population data used in the entries throughout this global report) gives a figure of 2.2 million (983,000 under 18).

2 "Militia should start in 2008", Kuensel Online, 16 June 2007,

3 Election Commission of Bhutan, "Bhutan Voter Guide", 21 August 2006,

4 Amnesty International Report 2005.

5 Correspondence to Coalition from Permanent Mission of Bhutan to the UN at Geneva, 17 July 2007.

6 "Refugees must be free to choose own solution in Nepal, says Guterres", UNHCR News Stories, 23 May 2007,

7 "Bhutan refugees give 15-day ultimatum to India", Times of India, 30 May 2007.

8 Coalition interview, Kathmandu, July 2007.

9 Second periodic report of Bhutan to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2007, UN Doc. CRC/C/BTN/2, 16 July 2007.

10 "Militia should start in 2008", above note 2.

11 Ibid.

12 Permanent Mission of Bhutan, above note 5.

13 Coalition interviews, Kathmandu, July 2007.

14 "Tight security in Bhutan after bomb found in border town", Hindustan Times, 25 April 2007,

15 "Communist Party members involved in subversive activities", Kuensel Online, 13 June 2007.

Search Refworld