The government maintained limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The law criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Section 154 of the Penal Code criminalized 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.” Inconsistent with international law, this definition required the purpose of the human trafficking crime to be “illegal” rather than specifically for an exploitative purpose, such as forced labor or sex trafficking. Section 227 of the Penal Code defined trafficking to include buying, selling, or transporting a child for any illegal purpose. Section 379 of the Penal Code defined trafficking as selling, buying, or transporting a person into or outside of Bhutan for the purposes of prostitution. Section 224 of The Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) criminalized child trafficking but, inconsistent with international law, required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Section 154 of the Penal Code prescribed punishment ranging from three to five years’ imprisonment; Section 227 from five to nine years; Section 379 from five years to life imprisonment; and Section 224 of the CCPA from five to nine years. These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Labor and Employment Act criminalized most forms of forced labor with sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from three to five years’ imprisonment. In the previous reporting period, the government steering committee for an international organization’s anti-trafficking program had recommended that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) review the legal code and propose changes to align the law with international trafficking standards. The OAG did not report reviewing the legal code during the reporting period. Officials acknowledged the legal code’s inconsistencies with international trafficking standards resulted in confusion on the definition of trafficking and the dismissal of at least one alleged trafficking case.
The government did not report anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Media reported that the government initiated one potential sex trafficking investigation, and continued two potential labor trafficking investigations from the previous reporting period. The government continued prosecution of one individual for “human trafficking” as defined in Bhutanese law; however, because the definition of human trafficking in Bhutanese law is inconsistent with the international definition of human trafficking, it was unclear if this case was human trafficking or illegal recruitment. In one of the labor trafficking investigations, which included indicators of forced labor, OAG dropped the charges because Bhutanese law required trafficking to be for an “illegal purpose,” and recruitment of women for employment was a “lawful purpose,” even if the labor was exploitative. OAG reported that because the recruiter was unregistered, authorities could prosecute him under the labor act, although the government did not report whether it had done so. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking. In partnership with an international organization, the Department of Law and Order (DLO) and the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC)—an independent government commission—held trainings for law enforcement and prosecutors. The government acknowledged that limited capacity, resources, and awareness of the crime remained obstacles to anti-trafficking efforts. The lack of diplomatic relationships with destination countries and mutual law enforcement agreements hindered the ability of the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) to properly investigate possible cases of transnational trafficking.