Bhutan: Working against human trafficking - focusing on rights, not on numbers

Bhutan is beginning to feel the nudges of organized crime with more number of human trafficking cases being reported over the past few years. The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Royal Government of Bhutan documented the first case study on human trafficking in 2007, when a young girl from Darjeeling, India was brought to Thimphu, Bhutan where she was forced into domestic servitude. Since 2007, NCWC has recorded cases of young boys and girls who have been trafficked from Thimphu, Dagana and other parts of Bhutan to India and then sometimes further to Nepal. Indian women from West Bengal and Assam have also been trafficked into Bhutanese border towns of Phuentsholing, Gelephug and Samdrup Jongkhar, mostly for sexual exploitation.

Karma Choden, Counseling Manager with an NGO, RENEW agrees that if one looks at the number of trafficked persons, they are not too high, but she says that it doesn't mean that trafficking is not happening. "Many cases go unreported. Many people in Bhutan are not sensitized and do not yet understand the problem," she adds.

The Royal Government of Bhutan has not yet ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, however, it has made tremendous efforts in preventing and countering human trafficking. The Constitution of Bhutan protects its citizens from trafficking. The Labour and Employment Act, 2007 protects men and women from exploitation by regulating the minimum age for work and the working conditions, while the Child Care and Protection Act, 2011 comprehensively addresses the offence of child trafficking. The Royal Bhutan Police has also set up specialized Woman and Child Protection Units that register complaints of abuse and violence against women and children. These units also offer counseling and support to survivors.

Awareness and sensitization of the civil society also play a key role in addressing the problem. Mr. Sonam Penjor, Senior Programme Officer, NCWC believes that sensitization at the policy level is also very important. He says, "People at decision making levels and those in the government must be sensitized. Once we are able to do that, we will be able to have a good legal environment to deter and punish offenders and have in place services for support."

As a step in this direction, the Royal Government of Bhutan in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Nedan Foundation organized an anti human trafficking sensitization workshop for law enforcement officers and other stakeholders in Phuentsholing, Bhutan. The workshop identified the lack of a standard protocol for investigating trafficking cases by law enforcement agencies as a key challenge in the country. The group also recognized the importance of information sharing and cross-border collaboration while working on trafficking cases.

"We have a very small number of trafficking cases, but we need to be prepared. We don't know when we will need services for survivors. We can't wait for it to become a huge problem and then react to it," says Mr Penjor. When asked if human trafficking concerns are of priority in the country, he adds: "The rights of every individual are a priority for every country."


The workshop was conducted under the UNODC project 'Promoting the implementation of the Trafficking Protocol and the Smuggling Protocol, both supplementing the UNTOC' with the financial support of the European Union.



"Trafficking in Persons": Situational Analysis of Bhutan, National Commission for Women and Children, Royal Government of Bhutan.