SOP to address human trafficking

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for multi-sectoral response will address Trafficking in Persons in the country.

The objective of the SOP is to provide clarity on the roles and responsibilities of all relevant agencies and to strengthen coordination among key stakeholders in preventing and combating TIP in a more effective and efficient manner, in line with rights based and victim-centric approach.

This SOP is derived from the existing provisions in the national laws such as section 154 of the Penal Code of Bhutan, 2011, section 62(b) of the Immigration Act of Bhutan,    2007, section 224 of the Child Care and Protection Act, 2011, preamble and section 4 of the Child Adoption Act of Bhutan, 2012, section 5 and 41 of the Royal Bhutan Police Act, 2009 and section 161 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan, 2001.

This SOP is being adopted as a guide to strengthen coordination mechanism amongst relevant agencies in preventing and dealing with TIP.

The cabinet endorsed the SOP in October and it came into force with effect from  October 2, 2019.

The government has designated the department of Law and Order (DLO), ministry of home and culture affairs as the lead agency.

The lead agency will be responsible for coordinating and monitoring the implementation of this SOP.

A special task force, comprising officials nominated by the respective key stakeholders will be formed and will function as per its terms of reference.

The key stakeholders include Royal Bhutan police, department of immigration, ministry of labor and human resources, ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of health, ministry of education, health care service providers and facilities, office of the attorney general, national commission for women and children and civil society organizations.

The stage of intervention by the relevant stakeholders will be identification and reporting of suspected case of TIP will be done by all the stakeholders. RBP will do preliminary investigation and ascertaining suspected TIP case.

If it is in-country cases, RBP in coordination with relevant stakeholders will rescue victims and if it is ex-country cases lead agency in coordination with ministry of foreign affairs will rescue victims.

Post-rescue interventions like medical examinations and referral services will be carried out by lead agency and RBP in coordination with relevant stakeholders. Investigation, prosecution, reintegration and repatriation would be carried out by RBP, OAG, ministry of foreign affairs in coordination with lead agency and relevant stakeholders.

The program coordinator of United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Tandin Wangmo said that most of the people are unaware of trafficking in person though it is prevalent within the country.

She said there are cases where the TIP cases are being dropped or altered due to lack of evidences, domestic violence and consent being provided.

She mentioned that the launch of SOP will address and combat TIP cases more effectively. Previously without SOP, authorities were vague on their roles and responsibilities in reporting and dealing TIP cases in line with right based and victim-centric approach.

So far, 11 TIP related cases has been reported and two cases were dropped or altered by OAG because of issue of consent and lack of evidences.

However, Tandin Wangmo said that if a victim’s consent to the intended exploitation is obtained through any improper means (threat, force, deception, coercion, giving or receiving of payments or benefits, abuse of power, or position of vulnerability) then the consent is negated and cannot be used to absolve a person from criminal responsibility.

According to the Global TIP 2019 report, Bhutan stands in Tier 3. Which means Bhutan does not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Each country is categorizes countries into four tiers based upon their efforts to combat human trafficking like Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List  and Tier 3.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu