Five major draft recommendations are being worked on to support and strengthen legislation, policy and international convention related to human trafficking. It looks at providing adequate manpower for Department of Law and Order (DLO), creating sensitization and awareness programs, creating trafficking in persons emergency helpline, and creating employment opportunities.
The Social and Cultural Affairs Committee (SCAC) also proposed for the emergency fund for repatriation and investigations efforts for DLO.
The chairperson of SCAC, Eminent Member of NC, Kesang Chuki Dorjee, said DLO gets their own funding for the national security issue programs and others. Since its inception, DLO has not received funding for human trafficking issues, and they are dependent on donor funds.
One of the donors is the United Nations for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the organization is funding for capacity building workshop and such, and DLO cannot direct the fund utilization. Therefore, the draft recommendation for emergency funds will help not just the DLO but the relevant stakeholders, said the SCAC chairperson. She also said the person will be repatriated if the person is able to prove that it is the case of human trafficking. Having emergency fund will help all concern stakeholders to repatriate, if necessary. She said Bhutan never had any issue of human trafficking, but now, more people are going abroad due to employment opportunities, so the issues will keep coming up. She said some kind of designated fund is required and ready to be utilized in case human trafficking cases.
The review report on legislation and strategies for addressing human trafficking reported that human trafficking is a global problem that is affecting Bhutan as well. She said that there are five commonly reported types of human trafficking- sexual exploitation, forced labour, child labour, involuntary domestic servitude and trafficking in human organs.
She shared concerns of increasing reports of Bhutanese being allegedly trafficked abroad, as well as people being trafficked into and within the country, and Bhutan’s recent downgrade to Tier 3 from Tier 2 Watch list in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
Subsequently, members of the committee reported the current status of Bhutan’s legislations related to human trafficking. Bhutan’s position in TIP ranking, challenges faced by DLO as the lead agency. The records of human trafficking cases maintained by law enforcement agencies, the committee’s survey of missing persons, reported cases of human trafficking in media, human trafficking risks, regional situation and legislation, and push and pull factors influencing trafficking were presented to the House.
Kesang Chuki Dorjee said with the increasing number of cases being reported, there is greater awareness on the issue. However, the issue was always there, maybe because people were not aware about the five different types of human trafficking. It was maybe not reported and even the law enforcement agency also admitted that is never being booked as such. There are also problems with the law, such as the problems being addressed till now, and the cases that have come up, she added.
There are at least four very clear forms of human trafficking prevalent already except for maybe Human Organs, where there are concerns, but the other ones have been reported through the media as well, she said.
The chairperson of SCAC also shared concerns over the drop in the international ranking to Tier 3 from Tier 2, which is the worst ranking one can get as a country. She said it shows that the systems are not in place, the government is not committed enough. Having dropped to Tier 3 has long-term implications in terms of funding assistance.
She said the government has been working actively, and now SOP will be expected to be the greater coordination. The members of SCAC will also be providing support, in terms of strengthening the relevant legislations that is one of the loopholes.
She said there has been cases where people were being let off on other charges, due to the judges using different Acts and provisions, and not necessarily booking them in human trafficking because of previous definition of human trafficking proving illegal purpose was unclear. The members will also put an efforts to address human trafficking issue, and work on minimizing and prevent the situation from getting worst.
“We are more worried because we cannot afford to even lose one person or we cannot also be a destination where human trafficking in various forms exists,” said the chairperson of SCAC.
As for the Palero Protocol, she said Bhutan is a party to a lot of international organizations and there is no problems for Bhutan to be party to this convention and this protocol, in particular TIP. This is in order to improve the international ranking, and to show the commitment to the international community that Bhutan is serious about addressing human trafficking.
However, in the draft recommendations, the members simply said to review, assess and see whether Bhutan should accede or not. “We did not say that they have to sign right now, but the government can think about it because, ultimately, for Bhutan’s ranking to improve,” she said.
Meanwhile, the members of NC shared various concerns, suggestions and additional recommendations.