Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The penal code makes no reference to gender in its definition of rape. 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. Spousal rape is illegal and prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) stated that in the last four years, it received 44 cases of child molestation, according to a June press report. It issued charges in 38 cases, of which 23 resulted in convictions.
The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence range from a prison sentence of one month to three years. Offenders also are fined the daily national minimum wage of approximately three dollars for 90 days. Three police stations 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. In a case that drew significant public attention, the OAG in May filed charges against a man accused of raping a woman who was returning home from work. The government trained police on gender issues, and allowed civil society groups to undertake further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center.
Sexual Harassment: The Labor Employment Act has specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported these provisions were generally enforced.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for equal inheritance for sons and daughters. In some areas, however, traditional inheritance practices stipulate inheritance is matrilineal and that daughters inherit family land. It is not normal practice for daughters to assume their father’s name at birth or their husband’s name upon marriage in most of the country.
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. The government generally enforced this law.
Birth Registration: Under the constitution, only children whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan acquire Bhutanese citizenship at birth. Parents must register a birth before a child turns one year old, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. Civil society groups noted disproportionate barriers to citizenship faced by Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa communities and the wives of non-Bhutanese citizens.
Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children, although education is not compulsory. Gender parity at the primary level has been achieved. Girls have unequal access to the country’s secondary and tertiary schools because of their distance, their lack of adequate sanitation, and transportation difficulties.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for perpetrators.
Early and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18. Statistics from the 2010 Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey (BMIS) Report indicated that 31 percent of marriages occurred before the age of 18 and 7 percent before the age of 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child prostitution, and the sale of children. Authorities generally enforced the law. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The country does not have a Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution specifically protects the rights of citizens with disabilities. Legislation directs the government to attend to the security of all citizens in the “event of sickness and disability.” The law requires that new buildings allow access for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce this legislation consistently. There were reports hospitals were generally accessible to persons with disabilities but residential and office buildings were not.
No government agency had specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The law establishing different categories of citizenship and governing domestic and international travel restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis and foreign-born individuals. Reports suggested that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances, which are required to obtain a passport, secure government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. The government claimed Nepali speakers were proportionally represented in civil service and government jobs. In its Freedom in the World 2018 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation. One woman who sold food for a living reported instances of customers refusing to purchase her products due to her gender identity, according to a May media report.
The law does not provide any distinct legal status for transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While NGOs claimed persons with HIV/AIDS faced no widespread stigma, observers noted such persons feared being open about their condition.
The government provided free medical and counseling services to persons with HIV/AIDS and maintained programs meant to prevent discrimination.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. Workers can form a union with the participation of at least 12 employees from a single workplace. There is no national trade union. The law does not mention the right to conduct legal strikes. Most of the country’s workforce engages in agriculture, a sector that is not unionized.
The law provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively with employers. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Violators may face misdemeanor charges and be compelled to pay damages.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. The law grants workers the right to pursue litigation.
Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were respected, although there were few employee unions. No unions formed during the year.
The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, Department of Labor, in its Annual Report 2017-2018, noted it had achieved all of its internal performance targets despite a shortage of officers and funding.
In the Department of Labor’s Annual Report 2017-2018, noted 24 labor inspectors conducted 2,256 inspections, issued 179 improvement notices, and imposed 20 penalties. The ministry received reports of 497 workplace disputes, of which 239 were forwarded to the court system, and 172 were resolved. The complaints received ranged from nonpayment of wages, termination without notice, resignation without notice, and other issues.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws. The law makes exceptions with regard to prison labor, work that might be required during an emergency, and work required for “important local and public” celebrations. The penal code criminalizes trafficking for illegal, but not exploitative, purposes. Violations of the labor law with respect to worst forms of child labor, forced and compulsory labor, improvement notice, prohibition notice, nonpayment of compensation, minimum age of admission into employment, employing foreigners without permit, and not complying with permits issued by the government are felonies subject to three to five years’ imprisonment. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Government officials acknowledged domestic servants working in private homes where the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources has no jurisdiction may be subject to forced labor. Officials relied on citizens to report forced labor of domestics directly to police.
Migrant workers from India who worked in the country’s construction and hydropower sectors and Indian women and girls who worked in domestic service or as caregivers were vulnerable to forced labor. Ministry of Labor and Human Resources noted approximately 54,972 migrants worked in the country as of June, mostly from India. Young, rural citizens were transported to urban areas, generally by relatives, for domestic work, and some of these individuals were subjected to domestic servitude. Unconfirmed reports suggested that girls who worked as domestic servants and entertainers in drayungs (karaoke bars) were subjected to labor trafficking through debt and threats of physical abuse.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 13, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children younger than age 18 are prohibited from working in dangerous occupations, including mining, construction, sanitary services, carpet weaving, or serving in bars.
While child labor laws were enforced, the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources reported that limited resources placed constraints on the number of inspections conducted and inspectors employed. Penalties included up to nine years of nonbailable imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations.
Children performed agricultural and construction work, completed chores on family farms, or worked in shops and restaurants after school and during holidays. Child labor also occurred in hotels and automobile workshops. Girls were employed primarily as domestic workers, where they were vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
The law prohibits employment discrimination for employees and job applicants and prescribes equal pay for equal work. Of the 497 workplace disputes, three were categorized as discrimination. Nepal-based organizations representing refugees claimed that Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were subject to discrimination with respect to employment and occupation (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
The national minimum wage is greater than the national poverty level. The law defines the workday as eight hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, and employers are required to grant regular rest days; however, these laws were sometimes difficult to enforce. According to one media report, although the government extended maternity leave three more months in 2016, most organizations in the private sector had not implemented the new rule. Work in excess of the legal workday must be paid at 1.5 times the normal rate.
Government occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate. Labor regulations grant workers the right to leave work situations that endanger their health and safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The government generally enforced minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards, fines and imprisonment effectively in the formal sector. Such penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to cover the country’s industries. Labor regulations were not effectively applied in the informal sector. The Ministry of Labor and Human Resources, in its Annual Report 2017-2018, noted 90 accidents took place during the period, of which 33 were fatal. Such workplace accidents took place predominantly in the construction and manufacturing sectors.