Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and makes no reference to gender in its definition of rape. In cases of rape involving minors, sentences for conviction 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. In January the NCWC published the Standard Operating Procedure for Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response, which lays out policies and procedures related to gender-based violence and the roles and responsibilities of the government and civil society in combating it. According to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) 2020 Annual Report, in 2019 there were 12 reported sexual offenses committed against women, including five cases of rape. A 2017 NCWC report stated that more than two in five women experienced at least one form of sexual, physical, psychological, or economic violence.
The law prohibits domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is prosecuted as battery under the penal code, and penalties for convicted perpetrators range from one month to three years’ imprisonment. Sexual abuse is prosecuted as a corresponding sexual offense, and punishable if convicted by three years’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. The law provides for increased sentences for conviction of second (and subsequent) domestic violence offenses.
Three police stations had protection units to address crimes involving women and children, and 11 police stations had officers specifically devoted to women and children’s matters. The government operated a dedicated toll-free helpline to report violence against women and children. The government trained police on gender abuse matters and cooperated with civil society groups that undertook further efforts, including operation of a crisis and rehabilitation center. Freedom House reported that cultural taboos resulted in the underreporting of domestic violence, although reports have increased in recent years. Between January and April 2020, there were 97 reported cases of domestic violence. Between December 2020 and January 15, there were 223 reported cases of gender-based violence. The increase in cases was reportedly due to enforced confinement and other COVID-19 pandemic measures.
Sexual Harassment: The law includes specific provisions to address sexual harassment in the workplace. NGOs reported these provisions were generally enforced. According to UNICEF, the Royal Civil Service Commission operated the Civil Service Support Desk to address sexual harassment in the civil service. The commission has designated points of contact to assist civil servants who experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The NCWC developed an internal framework to address gender matters in the workplace, including preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Approximately 29 government agencies and local governments have adopted the framework. The NCWC and Royal Civil Service Commission conducted awareness programs on sexual harassment and related legislations.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
A lack of awareness of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care contributed to unplanned early pregnancies, postpregnancy complications, child abandonment, and financial instability. In 2020 more than 237 cases of teenage pregnancy were reported. The World Bank reported that equity and access to medical care for pregnant women in some remote rural areas was a challenge because of difficult terrain, leading to disparities in access to skilled birth attendants.
The NCWC and a government funded NGO provided shelter, and medical and counseling services to women and girls who are survivors of violence, including sexual violence.
Discrimination: The law mandates the government take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation of women and girls, including trafficking, abuse, violence, harassment, and intimidation, at work and at home. The government generally enforced this law. The law is gender neutral and provides equal rights of property inheritance to female spouses and children.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against based on race, sex, language, religion, or politics.
Although the country does not have an omnibus civil rights act, there are provisions spread throughout various other acts prohibiting discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination in the civil service in the areas of employment and career advancement. For example, the law states, “All eligible Bhutanese citizens shall have equal opportunity for employment and career advancement in the Civil Service on the basis of merit, qualification, fair and open competition without discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, and other status.” The government generally enforced these laws and regulations.
In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House stated that ethnic Nepali residents who lacked a police security clearance certificate sometimes faced difficulties in starting a business and that the process of registering property could also be lengthy. The government did not permit NGOs to work on matters involving the status of ethnic Nepalis, and ethnic Nepalis sometimes faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Under the constitution, a person born to parents who are citizens by birth or by naturalization acquires citizenship.
Education: The government provides 11 years of universal free education to children, although education is not compulsory.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and provides for a range of penalties for conviction depending on the type of abuse. According to the OAG 2020 Annual Report, 67 sexual offenses committed against children were recorded in 2020, including 42 cases of rape and 14 cases of child molestation. In June the High Court convicted a schoolteacher for child molestation and official misconduct and ordered prison sentences of three years and one year, respectively for each offense.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The statutory minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and women.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, child sex trafficking, 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/reported-cases.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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities did not have equal access to education, health services, public building, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Several government policies and guidelines, however, supported persons with disabilities. For example, the Gross National Happiness Commission adopted the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, the Ministry of Education instituted standards for inclusivity regarding children with disabilities, and the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement adopted guidelines for “differently abled friendly construction” that state that infrastructure should provide access to persons with disabilities.
Social stigma and stereotyping of persons with disabilities was widespread.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While NGOs claimed persons with HIV or AIDS faced no widespread stigma, there were reports such persons were reluctant to reveal their conditions due to fear of negative public attitudes.
The government provided free medical and counseling services to persons with HIV or AIDS and maintained programs designed to prevent discrimination. The NGO Lhak-Sam provided support to persons living with HIV and their families and cooperated the Ministry of Health to create and promote effective responses to HIV/AIDS and its impact.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution provides for equal protection and application of rights but neither the constitution nor legislation explicitly protects individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. In December 2020 the parliament amended the law against “unnatural sex” to state, “Homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex.”
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation. According to the LGBTQI+ rights NGO Pride Bhutan, during the year it received 47 reports of discrimination, 27 reports of social stigma, 19 reports of violence, and 16 reports of bullying from members of the LGBTQI+ community.
The law does not provide distinct legal status for transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections.