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.