The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not have a national action plan to combat trafficking. In the previous reporting period, the Cabinet removed NCWC, with a mission that encompasses only women and children, as the head of the anti-trafficking coordination body and appointed DLO. DLO led regular meetings with government stakeholders during the reporting period. The government continued to actively collaborate with an international organization on a project designed to enhance government and civil society responses to trafficking. In partnership with Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, RBP, NGOs and UNICEF, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR), conducted an awareness event for 200 drayang (karoke bar) dancers and their employers to provide information on human trafficking legal provisions, reporting mechanisms, and protection services.
The Bhutan Labor and Employment Act of 2007 required labor recruitment agencies to be licensed and abide by the same labor laws as employers. MoLHR registered foreign migrant workers, monitored working conditions, and produced and disseminated pamphlets advising workers of their rights in Bhutan, including employer-paid medical exams, full and prompt payment of wages, and entitlement to retain personal identity documents. MoLHR licensed and monitored seven employment agencies to assist Bhutanese citizens over age 21 seeking work overseas, an increase from five agencies in 2016. MoLHR provided potential Bhutanese migrant workers with information about destination countries, including culture, environment, and laws, through in-person briefings and social media, and disseminated a pamphlet on migrant-worker rights. Government regulations on overseas employment allowed agents to charge Bhutanese migrant workers a recruitment fee of one month’s salary and most recruitment expenses, except for costs associated with a visa or work permit; reportedly, these fees were only collected after successful placement with an employer. Media reported MoLHR investigated the claims of 42 Bhutanese migrant workers against a licensed recruitment agency for misrepresenting the terms of employment, including hours and wages; at the end of the reporting period the MoLHR website publically listed this agency’s license as terminated however, the government did not report if the agency faced criminal or civil penalties.
In July 2017, media reported two registered educational consultancy and placement firms—agencies that help Bhutanese navigate postsecondary education abroad— had illegally sent women to Kuwait, Oman, and United Arab Emirates for domestic work. The women had their identification documents and cell phones taken away and were forced to work as many as 16 hours a day for less than the promised salary. Media reported the MFA and the MoLHR intervened to help the women return to Bhutan at the expense of the firms. The Ministry of Education removed these firms from its website of registered consultancies and while the media reported OAG would prosecute the cases, it is unknown if it did. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Bhutan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.