Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

BHUTAN: Tier 2

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. Bhutanese girls—working as domestic servants and entertainers in drayungs, or karaoke bars—may be subjected to sex trafficking and labor trafficking coerced by debt and threats of physical abuse. Rural Bhutanese are transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, which at times involves forced labor. Most domestic workers in Bhutan are young girls from poor, rural areas of the country, though some Indian women and girls also seek employment in this sector. An expanding construction sector has increased demand for low-skilled foreign labor, primarily men from India, who are vulnerable to trafficking.

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. The government continued to fund an NGO whose services were available to trafficking victims and, in partnership with an international organization, launched a three-year project designed to enhance its response to trafficking. However, the government did not employ formal procedures for the identification and referral of trafficking victims, or fund or conduct any specialized anti-trafficking training for its officials.


Amend Section 154 of the penal code to refine the definition of human trafficking so the purpose of the crime is “exploitation” rather than “any illegal purpose;” formalize standard operating procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims and refer them to protection services; proactively investigate potential cases of trafficking and, if there is enough evidence, prosecute those cases; train officials on the implementation of anti-trafficking laws and victim identification and referral procedures; undertake and publish a comprehensive assessment of all forms of human trafficking, including labor trafficking of men; continue to fund NGOs that provide protective services to trafficking victims; continue to conduct human trafficking awareness raising events among vulnerable populations; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


The government did not make anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Article 154 of the penal code criminalizes 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 the purpose be otherwise “illegal,” rather than for the purpose of engaging in “exploitation,” such as forced labor or prostitution. Bhutan also defines trafficking to include buying, selling, or transporting 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 child trafficking “for the purpose of exploitation” in Article 224 of the Child Care and Protection Act of 2011. The punishments for these offenses range from three years’ to life imprisonment. The Labor and Employment Act of 2007 prohibits most forms of forced labor, with penalties from three 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 trafficking cases during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking. The government did not train officials during the year, and a lack of widespread awareness and understanding of the crime continued to limit the government’s response to human trafficking.


The government made modest efforts to protect trafficking victims; however, it did not employ systematic procedures for the identification and referral of victims and it did not report its discovery of any victims during the reporting period. An international organization and a government-funded NGO began to develop standard operating protocols for anti-trafficking law enforcement procedures; the government formed an interagency group that reviewed procedures from other countries and agreed on intervention priorities. The government funded an NGO to provide shelter and rehabilitation to women and child victims of crime, including human trafficking; it is unclear whether trafficking victims utilized its services during the year. There was no equivalent facility for men. The government continued to deport undocumented migrant workers without screening them for trafficking victimization. The law did not provide legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship.


The government undertook some efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not have a national action plan to combat trafficking, nor did it appoint an agency to coordinate its anti-trafficking action; however, in July 2014, the government, in partnership with an international organization, launched a three-year project designed to enhance government and civil society responses to trafficking. The Bhutan Labor and Employment Act of 2007 required employment recruiters to abide by the same labor laws as employers and required recruiters to be licensed. The government registered migrant laborers and monitored working conditions. The government funded an NGO’s activities to raise awareness on human trafficking at industrial sites in border districts. The police monitored businesses potentially offering commercial sexual services, such as massage parlors. The government did not report whether it took steps to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. Bhutan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.