Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Bhutan

BHUTAN: Tier 2

The Government of Bhutan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Bhutan remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by identifying its first potential trafficking victims and investigating and prosecuting the first case under its trafficking law. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government’s laws do not prohibit all forms of trafficking, and while the government continued to work with an international organization to draft standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim identification and referral, it had not finalized the SOPs by the end of the reporting period. Understanding of trafficking crimes remained low and it was unclear if identified victims received protection services.


Amend section 154 of the penal code to refine the definition of human trafficking to conform with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol such that the purpose of the crime is “exploitation” rather than “any illegal purpose”; finalize and disseminate SOPs for proactive victim identification and referral to protection services; vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases; train officials on the implementation of anti-trafficking laws and victim identification and referral procedures; take steps to eliminate all recruitment fees charged to workers by recruitment agents; 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 events and disseminate awareness materials among vulnerable populations; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. 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 “exploitation,” such as forced labor or sex trafficking. Bhutan also defines trafficking to include buying, selling, or transporting a child for any illegal purpose, and engaging a person in prostitution if the defendant transports, sells or buys the person within, into, or outside of Bhutan, in articles 227 and 379 of the penal code, respectively. Bhutanese law 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. For the first time, the government investigated and prosecuted one defendant under article 154. Authorities apprehended the alleged trafficker before the victims could be sent to a foreign country to work. The verdict remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking.

While the government participated in efforts to train officials and increase their awareness of trafficking, its response to human trafficking remained limited by a general lack of understanding of the crime. In partnership with an international organization, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), an autonomous agency funded by the government, held an event with officials, including parliamentarians, to launch and disseminate a report on Bhutan’s laws and policies related to human trafficking. The Royal Bhutan Police maintained three women and child protection units and eight women and child desks, responsible for coordination with other agencies on matters relating to women and children and ensuring acts related to their protection are implemented. Through coordination with NCWC, an international organization held a multi-day training on an anti-trafficking toolkit for 25 officials, including prosecutors, police, and immigration officers. Attendees acknowledged the continued need for training.


The government increased efforts to identify victims while maintaining modest efforts to provide protective services. For the first time, the government reported identifying two potential trafficking victims, intercepted before being subjected to exploitation abroad. In partnership with an international organization, NCWC continued to draft SOPs on victim identification and referral, which it shared with 10 government agencies and an NGO for final review at the end of the reporting period. The government continued to fund an NGO to provide shelter to women and child victims of crime, including human trafficking, and rehabilitation and reintegration services to men, women, and children. It is unclear whether trafficking victims utilized these services during the year. There was no shelter facility for men. The immigration department mandated the reporting of suspected cases of trafficking of foreign women and children to NCWC before initiating deportation for immigration violations; it is unclear if similar policies existed for potential foreign male victims. The law did not provide legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship.


The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not have a national action plan to combat trafficking. NCWC functioned as the government’s main anti-trafficking coordination body. NCWC’s mission, however, encompassed only women and children, which was recognized as a hindrance to combating adult male trafficking. The government continued to actively collaborate with an international organization on a project designed to enhance government and civil society responses to trafficking. The Bhutan Labor and Employment Act of 2007 required labor recruitment agencies to be licensed and abide by the same labor laws as employers. The government registered migrant workers, monitored working conditions, and produced and disseminated pamphlets advising migrant workers of their rights in Bhutan, including employer-paid medical exams, full and prompt payment of wages, and entitlement to retain personal identity documents. The labor ministry licensed and monitored five employment agencies to assist Bhutanese citizens over age 21 seeking work overseas and produced a pamphlet on their rights. Government regulations on overseas employment agents allow agents to charge Bhutanese migrant workers a recruitment fee of one month’s salary and most recruitment expenses, except for costs associated with a visa or work permit; reportedly these fees may only be collected after successful placement with an employer. During the reporting period, the government terminated the license of one agency for violating the regulations. An international organization designed public awareness materials in cooperation with NCWC, though the materials had not been finalized and approved at the end of the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Bhutan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


As reported over the last five years, Bhutan is a source and destination country for men, women, and children vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. 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 employment in domestic work, which at times involves forced labor. While most domestic workers in Bhutan are young girls from poor, rural areas of the country, Indian women and girls also seek employment in this sector. An expanding construction sector continues to increase demand for low-skilled foreign labor, primarily men from India who are vulnerable to trafficking. Bhutanese who migrate overseas for work are vulnerable to human trafficking by unlicensed or unscrupulous recruitment agents.