Yangyel Lhaden

The Department of Law and Order (DLO) adopted a national prevention and response strategy on trafficking in persons (NPRSTP) 2021.

According to the document, though cases of trafficking in person (TIP) recorded in Bhutan are few compared to other South Asian countries, it is still important for Bhutan to prepare itself with capacity, competency, and strategies to address the issue, as Bhutan has porous border and there are incidents of unsafe labour migration through services of unregistered recruitment agencies that have resulted in trafficking.

TIP refers to buying and selling of human beings whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults and children by compelling them to perform labour or engage in commercial sex.

The strategy document is developed as a holistic approach to prevent, protect, and deliver efficient justice.

It stated that the document highlights methods to tackle TIP with a victim-centred approach.

DLO officiating director Karma Dorji said that the main purpose of the strategy is to identify gaps and interventions that were necessary to address these gaps so that the system to deal with TIP cases can be enhanced.

He said that the document has also identified agencies that would make necessary interventions under various areas to prevent TIP.

The DLO will implement the strategy document with commitment from nine agencies, with six core principles to protect the citizens of Bhutan through various meaningful and innovative programmes that could translate into meaningful employment and prevent any forms of exploitation and efficient services for victims of TIPs.

According to the NPRSTP 2021, social and economic development needs have been recognised as an important element in preventing TIP as labour mobility in the country increases because of lack of jobs in rural areas. “This has resulted in many vulnerable individuals falling prey to illegal agencies in attempts to access income opportunities both within Bhutan and abroad.”

It also stated that the cases that Bhutan has evidenced to date are primarily of unsafe labour migration using unregistered recruitment channels, resulting in trafficking.

The strategy document includes eight key priorities with identified lead agencies and time frames to implement.

An official said that to ensure the strategy does not remain only on paper, an action plan was developed with the inputs from special taskforce members from nine agencies and it was also aligned with 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP).

Karma Dorji said that while there is a committed budget for some activities identified under the action plan, some will have to be explored. “It is the responsibility of the relevant stakeholders to explore the budget with government and external agencies where applicable.”

The document stated that to examine the efficacy of multi-stakeholder interventions, a meeting for special task force members will take place on a quarterly basis and if required, the strategy document will be reviewed once every five years coinciding with the FYP.

Meanwhile, it also stated the first TIP case in Bhutan was documented in 2007 and the perpetrator was convicted to three years in prison.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted in 2013 that an increasing number of human trafficking cases were reported the country and until 2020, 11 cases were reported to the police and seven cases were prosecuted.