The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The law criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking. Section 154 criminalized all forms of adult sex trafficking, adult labor trafficking, and child labor trafficking. However, the law defined trafficking to require a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion, which is inconsistent with international law for child sex trafficking, thereby failing to criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Similarly, Section 224 of The Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) criminalized child trafficking but, inconsistent with international law, also 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 379 of the penal code defined “trafficking a person for prostitution” as selling, buying, or transporting a person into or outside of Bhutan for the purposes of prostitution. Section 154 of the Penal Code prescribed punishment ranging from three to five years’ imprisonment, Section 379 prescribed from five years to life imprisonment, and Section 224 of the CCPA prescribed from five to nine years’ imprisonment. These punishments were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as abduction.
The government initiated one potential trafficking investigation and continued to investigate a 2019 case involving 160 Bhutanese women exploited in domestic servitude in Iraq, compared with no new investigations initiated in the previous reporting period. The government did not report initiating any prosecutions, compared with one prosecution initiated in the previous reporting period against three suspects in a 2018 labor trafficking case involving Bhutanese nationals in Mumbai, and it continued prosecution of two cases. However, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) initiated preliminary procedures to prosecute 15 alleged traffickers in one case, which remained pending by the end of the reporting period. In June 2021, the government convicted three traffickers following the reinvestigation and prosecution of the 2018 Mumbai case during previous reporting periods, compared with no convictions during the previous reporting period. The court sentenced one defendant to 54 months in prison for trafficking under Section 154 of the penal code and the other two defendants to 18 months in prison for attempted collusion in trafficking. The government did not report taking action against the employment agencies involved in the 2019 case of Bhutanese domestic workers in Iraq. The OAG did not pursue further appeals following the dismissal of trafficking charges in a 2018 case in which a suspect was charged with child trafficking for forced domestic labor of an 8-year-old girl. Despite indicators of trafficking, including severe physical abuse that required hospitalization and amputations, two courts acquitted the defendant of forced labor and convicted the employer of illegal transportation of a child. Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) reportedly screened for trafficking in enforcement operations, including at worksites, businesses, and border areas, but did not identify any trafficking victims. RBP maintained “women and child protection” units at three police stations and “women and child protection” desks at 11 additional police stations. RBP also maintained one “women and child protection” division at its headquarters in Thimphu. All officers and personnel in these units and offices were trained on “women and child friendly policy procedures,” including a victim-centered approach during investigations of trafficking cases.
In mid-2018, some Bhutanese participants in a government-approved work-study program in Japan reported indicators of forced labor. The OAG charged the recruitment agency with 2,887 counts of forgery and 730 counts of larceny by deception, and the government charged the Director-General of the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources with four criminal offenses, including illegal issuance of a certificate of registration to an employment agency without required documentation. For the third year, the prosecution of both cases was ongoing at the close of the reporting period.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. Some officials continued to lack an understanding of human trafficking, especially internal and transnational forced labor, although recent high-profile cases have helped increased awareness. Limited police resources often hindered thorough investigations, and a lack of training for law enforcement on victim-centered investigations impeded formation of strong cases. In some cases, successful anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts relied on persistent individual officers. In partnership with an international organization, the Department of Law and Order (DLO) continued to support anti-trafficking trainings for law enforcement and prosecutors.