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.
Birth Registration: Under the constitution, only children whose parents are both citizens of Bhutan acquire Bhutanese citizenship at birth. The birth must be registered before the child turns one year old. According to the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group, existing citizenship laws caused certain children to be categorized as “non-nationals” (see section 2.d.). Births in remote areas were less likely to be registered. Children who do not acquire citizenship before turning one year old are able to petition the king for citizenship. The government provides health and education services for children without citizenship. However, children in this situation are not able to acquire nonobjection certifications, citizenship identification cards, and passports.
Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children although education is not compulsory. While gender parity at the primary level has been achieved, distances to the country’s secondary and tertiary schools, lack of adequate sanitation, and transportation difficulties contributed to girls’ unequal access to secondary and higher education. The law requires proof of birth registration for children to attend school. Children of non-Bhutanese residents may enroll with a copy of a parent’s work permit, employer letter, and documentation from the Department of Immigration.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment for perpetrators. Corporal punishment is banned in schools, and there were no reported incidents in monasteries. Reports of child abuse were rare.
Early and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18. Statistics from the 2010 BMIS (the latest available) indicated that 31 percent of marriages occurred before age of 18 and 7 percent before age of 15. In 2010, 15 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were either married or in a civil union. The National Health Survey of 2012 found that 24 percent of girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 24 were married or in a civil union, of which 3.7 percent were adolescents (age 10-19). The average age for a first pregnancy was reported between the ages of 20 and 22. While child marriage has become less common in urban areas, in remote villages there were reports of secret marriage ceremonies involving girls younger than 15. Child marriage took place in all regions, but the incidence was higher in the western and central areas of the country.
The government initiative Youth Friendly Health Services sought to prevent child marriage. It conducted community outreach and awareness campaigns to alert communities to the dangers of child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation, including child pornography, child prostitution, the sale of children, and child trafficking. 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 www.travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.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 stipulates that new buildings be constructed to allow access for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce this legislation consistently. There were reports that hospitals were generally accessible to persons with disabilities, but residential and office buildings were not.
Under the Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, the government seeks to provide medical and vocational rehabilitation for persons with all types of disabilities, promote integration of children with disabilities in schools, and foster community awareness and social integration. There was no government agency specifically responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
There were special-education institutes for students with disabilities, including the National Institute for the Disabled in Khaling, which educates children with vision disabilities, and an education resource unit in Paro for persons with hearing disabilities. Children with disabilities often attended mainstream schools although the resources needed to accommodate them varied among school districts. There also were special education facilities in Thimphu designed to meet the needs of children with physical and mental disabilities. Although there were no government-sponsored social welfare services available for persons with disabilities, the National Pension and Provident Fund granted benefits to such persons. Three NGOs, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan, Ability Bhutan Society, and Drakstsho Vocational Center for Special Children and Youth, seek to change the public perception of disability and assisting persons with disabilities and their families.
According to the Bhutan Observer, in rural areas there was widespread discrimination against persons with disabilities, and some parents did not send children with disabilities to school.
Organizations in Nepal claimed that employers discriminated against Nepali-speaking Bhutanese seeking employment (see section 7.d.). The government claimed Nepali speakers were proportionally represented in civil service and government jobs.
English was the medium of instruction in all government schools. Dzongkha, the national language, was taught as an additional subject. Sharchopkha, Bumpthapkha, Khenkha, Nepali, and Tibetan were also spoken in the country. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the ability of minority children, specifically the Nepali-speaking minority, to maintain their cultural practices, observe their religion, or use their language.
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 for sexual orientation or gender identity. 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. In response to recommendations to decriminalize same-sex sexual conduct during the country’s Universal Periodic Review, the government stated the law “has never been evoked since its enactment for same-sex acts between two consenting adults. These provisions can be reviewed when there is a felt need for it by the general population.”
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) population has historically remained out of public view without an organized advocacy community. In 2014 several LGBTI groups established a public presence via social media. There were no NGOs in the country explicitly associated with LGBTI issues. There were no reports of violence directed against members of the LGBTI community although social bias occurred. In May, 13 LGBTI community members observed the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and discussed their issues. An LGBTI community coordinator noted LGBTI Bhutanese continued to face stigmatization and discrimination. However, RENEW observed there had been a reduction in social stigma over the years.
A small transgender community existed, and transgender individuals faced social stigma although the community is gradually increasing its public visibility. The law does not provide any distinct legal status to transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While NGOs claimed that there was no widespread HIV/AIDS-related stigma, observers noted that persons with HIV/AIDS did suffer from self-stigmatization and feared being open about their condition. One NGO, Lhak-Sam, was formed in 2010 and provides a network for persons with HIV/AIDS while working to reduce social stigma. Youth Development Fund, RENEW, and Chithuen Phendey Association work on this issue in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
Persons with HIV/AIDS received free medical and counseling services, and the government maintained programs meant to prevent discrimination.