Bhutan is a destination country for men, women, and children vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking, and Bhutanese children are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking within the country. Bhutanese girls who work as domestic servants and entertainers in drayungs, or karaoke bars, are subjected to sex and labor trafficking. A civil society group asserted that some drayung owners required employees to sign a contract to work in the karaoke bar for five years, and the employees were financially penalized if they terminated their employment earlier; some employees were required to reside in these bars. A civil society group noted that some of these employed girls are vulnerable to being forced into prostitution with customers under threat of physical abuse from the drayung owners. Young, rural Bhutanese are transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, and some of them are subjected to domestic servitude. Indian and Bangladeshi men who work in Bhutan’s construction and hydropower sectors and Indian women and girls who work in domestic service in Bhutan are vulnerable to human trafficking. Immigration officials noted there was a growing problem of undocumented Indian domestic workers in Bhutan. In the reporting period, a foreign girl was subjected to forced labor in a restaurant in Bhutan.
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 did not use 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 the definitions of human trafficking.
Recommendations for Bhutan: 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; develop procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims, both men and women, and refer them to protection services; 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 take law enforcement efforts against human trafficking over the last year. 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 Palermo Protocol definition because it requires that the purpose be otherwise “illegal,” rather than simply be for the purpose of “exploitation.” 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, and 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 less than 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 did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. Some NGOs expressed concern that government officials and police officers were not sufficiently trained to understand and respond to trafficking cases.
The Government of Bhutan undertook modest efforts to protect victims of human trafficking. The government did not employ systematic procedures to identify victims and refer them to protective care. Women and children who were trafficking victims were able to access shelter and services from a government-funded NGO, but there were no known protective facilities for male trafficking victims. Adult victims were not able to leave the shelter unchaperoned until after all court proceedings had been completed. The government identified a foreign child trafficking victim who was found working in a restaurant. The girl was referred to care facilities and the trafficker was fined for employing an undocumented worker. Sex trafficking victims may have been punished for prostitution offenses. The Government of Bhutan deported undocumented Indian and Bangladeshi migrant workers without screening them for trafficking victimization; however, the government worked with foreign civil society groups and foreign governments, and when necessary, paid for temporary lodging and airfare to ensure the welfare of these deported migrant workers. The law does not provide legal alternatives to removal of trafficking victims to countries in which victims would face retribution or hardship.
The Government of Bhutan undertook minimal efforts to prevent human trafficking in the reporting period. In February 2013, a government-funded NGO conducted a cross-border sensitization training on human trafficking with an international organization and an Indian NGO. The government did not launch any campaigns to raise awareness of human trafficking 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.