According to the records maintained with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), initially 11 cases of Trafficking in Person (TIP) were reported within a span of 11 years, 2007-2018.
Although the 11 cases have been registered with RBP, one case was later ruled out as a non-trafficking case after further investigation. Therefore, out of the 10 cases registered, the guilty persons involved in four of the cases received conviction, three cases are under ongoing investigation, and the rest of the cases are currently under court hearing.
There are more than 34 victims in the 10 reported cases; men, women and children. They were trafficked to India, Dubai, Singapore and USA, with attempted trafficking to Dubai, and Kurdistan, Iraq.
From a prevention perspective, Major Karma Rigzin, Woman and Child Protection Division, under Crime and Operations Branch, RBP, said that most of the victims, in such cases, are naïve and were easily lured into the prospect of going overseas for better work opportunities.
Major Karma Rigzin further said, “Most of the victims don’t realize the consequences associated with going through an unregistered agents or individuals. We would like to urge everyone not to trust easily when they come across job offers overseas. They need to do some background check and verify with Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) on the agent, and try to get in touch with the earlier batches of applicants sent abroad by the agent to get a clearer knowledge.”
After recognizing the increasing trafficking cases as an emerging issue, and especially, in light of the recent case involving the three women rescued from a supposed trafficking case, the Woman and Child Protection Division, RBP has initiated a sensitization session on TIP with the youth or the applicants who are planning for jobs overseas starting from 19th June 2018.
“Since the applicants wishing to go overseas are required to get their security clearance from the RBP, we have taken advantage of the fact that they have to come personally, and initiated a sensitization session, whereby, we try to verify the agents they are going through, share the experiences encountered by the police so far, and alert them on the prevalence and meaning of TIP,” said Major Karma Rigzin. She also added that any individual with doubts on the issue or the agents can approach the RBP for clarity.
According to RBP, the coordination among the relevant stakeholders needs to be improved if the cases on TIP are to be addressed and taken seriously. “Many people are of view that it is the responsibility of the RBP, alone, to address this issue, but we must all be aware that such issue like TIP requires a multidisciplinary approach from the relevant stakeholders and the Department of Law and Order (DLO) as the lead agency must coordinate and facilitate among all the agencies involved.”
Major Karma Rigzin said that RBP now makes connection between the reported cases of Missing of Person to Trafficking in Person cases. However, the person who has been reported missing but found later must now report back to the police so that necessary follow ups can be done. “We are also taking cases on Missing of Person very seriously in addressing TIP.”
Since TIP is a fairly new message for the general public, and there is a lack of understanding on the issue, the Woman and Child Protection Division, RBP, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will be training the first batch of police personnel and clerks so as to sensitize them on TIP, and the ways of handling the cases on TIP. There are also plans to train and sensitize the immigration officials on the issue.
Many officials from different law enforcement agencies have been trained on TIP to ensure that they are aware on the issue.
While DLO, as the lead agency, admits that currently there is no clarity or binding regulations to address this issue because of its complexities, the Chief Program Officer, Kinzang, said that DLO is in the process of developing a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) which will provide clear guidelines on the functioning of the relevant stakeholders, and how each agencies can come forward and be clearer on their coordinative action to solve cases on TIP. The chief program officer said that the SOP is still in its draft stage and once finalized, it will be submitted to the Parliament for its endorsement.
“Currently, we are in the process of implementing a project which is funded by UNODC. Through the project, we are creating awareness campaigns on the issue related to TIP. We have already completed awareness in the southern parts of the country where we have targeted women working in drayangs, hoteliers, labour recruitment agencies and students. We will expand our awareness campaigns.”
Kinzang said that women working in drayangs, hoteliers, labour recruitment agencies and students have been identified as vulnerable because they reside in the border areas, and they could be easily lured by the illegal schemes.
National Commission for Women and Children, a national machinery to take the lead in promoting and protecting the rights of women and children in the country, is also concerned by the lack of coordination among the stakeholders and effective mechanism to address issues related to TIP.
The recent case involving three women in an alleged trafficking case is still under police investigation.
By Sonam Yangdon
The writer is the Chief Reporter with The Bhutanese.