Bhutan is a destination country for men, women, and children vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking, and a source country for Bhutanese children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking within the country and in India, although data is limited. Bhutanese girls, who work as domestic servants and entertainers in drayungs, or karaoke bars, are subjected to sex and labor trafficking through debt and threats of physical abuse. Young, rural Bhutanese are transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, and some of them are subjected to domestic servitude. An expanding construction sector has resulted in an increase in low-skilled foreign labor, primarily men from India. Most domestic workers are young girls from poor, rural areas of Bhutan, though some women and girls are transported to Bhutan from India.
The Government of Bhutan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. There were no known law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons. The government did not use formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, but funded an NGO whose services were available to protect trafficking victims. Some government agencies have a limited understanding of trafficking in persons and do not recognize trafficking in Bhutan.
Recommendations for Bhutan:
Create, or appoint, an agency to take the lead on trafficking in persons issues; formalize standard operating procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims, both men and women, and refer them to protection services; take law enforcement efforts to address trafficking; investigate, and if there is enough evidence, prosecute those cases; amend Section 154 in the penal code to refine the definition of human trafficking so the purpose of the crime is “exploitation” rather than “any illegal purpose;” undertake and publish a comprehensive assessment of all forms of human trafficking—including labor trafficking of men—in Bhutan; train government officials on the existence of human trafficking and the implementation of anti-trafficking laws; establish shelters for trafficking victims in border areas; continue to fund NGOs that provide protective services to trafficking victims; ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or immigration offenses; undertake human trafficking awareness-raising measures among vulnerable populations; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Bhutan did not deploy sufficient law enforcement efforts against human trafficking. Article 154 of the penal code was amended in 2011 broadly to criminalize a person who “recruits, transports, sells or buys, harbors or receives a person through the use of threat or force or deception within, into, or outside of Bhutan for any illegal purpose.” This definition departs from the 2000 UN TIP Protocol definition because it requires that the purpose be otherwise “illegal,” rather than for the purpose of engaging in “exploitation,” such as forced prostitution or labor. Bhutan also defines trafficking to include the buying, selling, or transporting of a child for any illegal purpose and the same actions if done for the purpose of engaging a person in prostitution in Articles 227 and 379 of the penal code, respectively. It also prohibits all forms of trafficking of children “for the purpose of exploitation” in Article 224 of the Child Care and Protection Act of 2011. Punishments range from three years’ to life imprisonment. The Labor and Employment Act of 2007 also prohibits most forms of forced labor, with penalties from three years’ to five years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected trafficking offenders in the reporting period. The Government of Bhutan did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of cases of government employees complicit in human trafficking. Officials’ lack of training and lack of awareness of human trafficking continued to impair the government’s response to cases.
The Government of Bhutan continued to fund an NGO that provides protection to victims; however, protection efforts were impaired by the government’s denial of a trafficking problem. The government did not employ systematic procedures to identify victims and refer them to protective care. The government did not identify any trafficking victims, but NGOs identified four trafficking victims during the reporting period: a Bhutanese boy and girl subjected to domestic servitude in India, and two Indians subjected to domestic servitude in Bhutan. The government does not have its own victim protective custody facilities, but funds an NGO partner to provide shelter and rehabilitation to women and children who are victims of all types of violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Services provided by the shelter included counseling, emergency shelter, reintegration assistance, legal aid, advocacy, and creation of community-based support systems to assist with victim identification. There was no equivalent facility for adult males. Adult victims were not able to leave the shelter unchaperoned until after all court proceedings were completed. The Government of Bhutan continued its policy of deporting undocumented migrant workers without screening them for victimization. The law does not provide legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship. The government did not fund or conduct any specialized anti-trafficking training.
The Government of Bhutan undertook some efforts to prevent human trafficking. The Bhutan Labor and Employment Act of 2007 required employment recruiters to abide by the same labor laws as employers, and regulated recruiters by requiring licenses. Migrant laborers are registered with the government, and working conditions are monitored by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. The government did not launch any campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking in persons in the country. The government did not report whether it took steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Bhutan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.