Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines criminal sexual assault and specifies penalties. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences range from five to 15 years in prison. In extreme cases a person convicted of rape may be imprisoned for life. According to NGOs, cultural taboos and the fact that survivors were unaware of their rights resulted in underreporting of rapes. Spousal rape is illegal. A harmful traditional practice enabling rape was the practice of “night hunting” (bomena) practiced mainly in the eastern parts of country. In night hunting a man climbs into a single woman’s window to have sex with her; in some cases the woman does not know the man, and in some cases she does not consent.
The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence range from a prison sentence of one month to three years. Offenders are also fined the daily national minimum wage for 90 days. Police stated that they encouraged women to reconcile with their allegedly abusive husbands and couples to pursue mediation before they file criminal charges for domestic violence. Three police stations across the country housed women and child protection units to address crimes involving women and children and eight police stations housed desks with officers specifically devoted to women and children’s issues. The government passed rules and regulations clarifying the Domestic Violence Act, trained police on gender issues, and allowed civil society groups to undertake further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern about reports of violence against women by their spouses or other family members and at work. According to the 2010 Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS), 68 percent of women believed certain behavior justified domestic violence. The NGO Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) operated a domestic violence center in the capital. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act authorized the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) to develop and implement programs to prevent domestic violence, rehabilitate survivors, and conduct studies.
Sexual Harassment: The Labor Employment Act has specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported that these provisions were generally enforced.
Reproductive Rights: The country has no legal restrictions regarding the number, spacing, or timing of children, and there were no reports of coercion regarding reproduction. Modern contraception was available and legal.
Women’s rights NGOs noted that there were generally no prohibitions against women accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare. The World Bank reported that access and equity to medical care for pregnant women was a challenge because of difficult terrain, leading to disparities in access to skilled birth attendants linked to geography and wealth. According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio in 2013 was 120 deaths per 100,000 live births. The 2014 Annual Health Bulletin noted there were significant improvements in infant mortality because of increased access to skilled personnel and a greater prevalence of institutional deliveries.
Discrimination: The law provides for equal inheritance for sons and daughters. Traditional inheritance laws stipulate that inheritance is matrilineal and that daughters inherit family land and daughters do not assume their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage. According to NGO and government sources, within the household, men and women enjoyed relatively equal status.
The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home, and the government generally enforced the law. CEDAW expressed concern that the constitution does not include prohibitions on both “direct and indirect” forms of discrimination. CEDAW also noted that the government failed to adopt implementing legislation for its international treaty obligations related to women’s rights.
The NGO National Women’s Association worked to improve women’s living standards and socioeconomic status. RENEW, another NGO, also promoted and advocated for women’s rights and political participation. The NCWC actively defended the rights of women and children during the year, working closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the judiciary, and the police.