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 a lack of rights awareness among survivors resulted in underreporting of rapes. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The government criminalized the traditional practice of “night hunting” (bomena), practiced mainly in the eastern parts of country, in which a man climbs into a single woman’s window to have sex with her. According to the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), through the efforts of the Royal Police of Bhutan, and the NGO Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women ( RENEW), the prevalence of night hunting incidents declined significantly. There were no reported incidents of the practice during the reporting period.
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. 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. The UN Population Division estimated that 66 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception in 2015. 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, World Health Organization, and other UN agencies, the maternal mortality ratio in 2015 was 148 and increased from 120 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 75 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel.
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 government said that provisions had been made in already existing legislation.
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 and Cultural Affairs, the judiciary, and the police.