Of the 30 registered cases with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), in connection to Human Trafficking, a total of 4 cases have been charge sheeted to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
This week the latest 3 cases involve three suspects, all women aged between 25 to 50 years. They are accused of sending 21 women (victims) aged between 20 to 50 years to Iraq. RBP is yet to charge sheet 25 cases, which will be done every week so that OAG does not get over burdened.
The case was first reported to police on 16 January 2020, and since then the police in collaboration with other relevant government agencies, under the command of His Majesty The King, have rescued 179 women in Iraq. In addition, 5 women got out by themselves.
It was learnt that police have not detained any suspect because if they are to detain them, then the number of days might exceed 108 days in detention. And it was uncertain for the police to decide on how long it would take to investigate the cases, as each case comprises of many victims all over the country.
However, the suspects are out on surety and their travel documents have been seized so that they do not get a chance to abscond.
A source said, “All the suspects were once victims to human trafficking in the past. Initially, in the past, the agents sent them to work in Iraq, but they have linked with the agent and started taking up their own girls.”
In addition, agents would have many sub-agents working under them so that their supply of girls is not hampered, even when one of their sub agents is caught by the police. That is how everything works, the source added.
The suspects have lured and have sent the girls saying everything is free once they reach Iraq, and that the income per month would be huge. They were promised of a day-off in a week and that the work is easy.
However, it was different in reality, the source said, adding that when the victims demanded to return home the agents and suspects then asked for their money refund including the travelling expenses from Bhutan to Iraq.
That way, the victims have indirectly incurred a debt for which they were forced to work for two years. Until the end of contract the period, they cannot travel back home as the agents confiscated their passports.
The agents initially sent victims on a tourist visa to avoid issues in the airports. The victims were sent to work as housemaids in Iraq.
It was learnt that there was no case of sex trafficking, but the owners have assaulted some of the victims.
Member of Parliament (MP) Jurmi Wangchuk, a member of Women, Children and Youth Committee shared that human trafficking is a serious issue, as far as Bhutan is concerned. This need to be discussed so it can be eliminated, but it is not something a single agency can do to eliminate.
He said, “It’s hard to say how and why it has started, but one reason could be the change in living standards, and to some extent, due to the unemployment issues in the country. Everybody wants to have a high living standard, and thereby, some people force themselves to get into such problems, not minding the risks involved.”
Victims of human trafficking cases are mostly women, he said, adding that some of them must have gone knowing the jobs that they are going to do. The initial job given to them was that of housemaids, but with time, the employers started abusing them in many ways.
The MP said police in Goa, India raided sex workers a few months ago, and among the sex workers were two Bhutanese women. They were immediately sent back to Bhutan via Delhi, but they have not reached home though they informed the police about their departure.
A few of the women agencies here in Bhutan communicated with them, but they stated that they do not want to come back. They cannot be forced to come back as both of them are above the age of 18 years, he added.
“Framing the law and restricting anyone can’t do anything if an individual is not taking the responsibility. Anyone would be happy to render help if asked, but that is not the case,” MP Jurmi said.
Nevertheless, they are finding ways to address the issue, and human trafficking can curbed if everyone worked on ending it, he further said.
Meanwhile, Thimphu District Court has convicted three women in connection to trafficking of person on 2 June 2021. The case first surfaced when the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi confirmed that three Bhutanese women were rescued by the Mumbai police from a Sri Lankan travel agent for allegedly trying to fly them to Sri Lanka in June 2018.
However, OAG has dropped the case of alleged human trafficking in Kurdistan, Iraq in 2018 stating that there was no use of threat or force or deception, and the women were sent for lawful purpose only.
Section 154 of Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2011 states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of trafficking of a person if the defendant 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.
The offence of trafficking a person shall be a felony of the fourth degree as per section 155 of PCB 2004 which is a minimum of three years’ imprisonment and maximum of five years.