Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Bhutan

Publisher United States Department of Labor
Author Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Publication Date 29 April 2004
Cite as United States Department of Labor, 2003 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Bhutan, 29 April 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48c8ca0546.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Government Policies and Programs to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

Since ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, the Government of Bhutan has amended the Marriage Act (1996), and has enacted the Regulation of Wage Rate, Recruitment Agencies and Workmen's Compensation Act (1993) to safeguard the rights of children.[430] The government is working with the UNDP to improve policies that address the needs of the country's poor and impoverished.[431] His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck established the Youth Development Fund in 1998 to provide assistance for ongoing and new youth activities and programming.[432] The Government of Bhutan also coordinates with the WFP on a USDA-supported school-feeding program. The Bhutanese Department of Education finances the construction of kitchens and storerooms, provides cooking materials and stoves, pays the salaries of cooks, and distributes a meal stipend for children in secondary boarding schools.[433] As a member state of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Bhutan signed the Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002.[434]

UNICEF is working to improve the country's education system, with special emphasis on women, children, and disadvantaged students. Efforts are focused on improving primary, non-formal, and special education, as well as providing teacher training and essential school supplies.[435] The World Bank is funding an education program implemented by the Ministry of Health and Education that is constructing new schools and upgrading existing facilities, expanding and improving teacher education, revising curriculum and examinations, and introducing decentralized school monitoring and evaluation through training of central staff and head-teachers.[436] The ADB and the Government of Germany recently funded a skills training project aimed at unemployed youth, women and the poor, which is being carried out by the Government of Bhutan's National Technical Training Authority. The Government of Bhutan will contribute approximately USD 3 million to this project.[437] Sixty percent of recurrent educational expenditures are invested into primary education.[438]

Incidence and Nature of Child Labor

In 2001, the ILO estimated that 50.2 percent of children ages 10 to 14 years in Bhutan were working.[439] Although detailed information on the sectors in which children are working is limited, it is reported that children are often engaged in agricultural work on family farms.[440]

Education, including technical and vocational education, is free up to the tertiary level for all children aged 6 years or older in Bhutan.[441] In 1998, Bhutan had a gross primary enrollment rate of 71.9 percent. Gross enrollment varied between sexes, with boys enrolled at a rate of 82.1 percent and girls at 61.5 percent. The net primary enrollment rate was 52.9 percent in 1998, with 58.4 percent for boys and 47.2 percent for girls.[442] The completion rate of 7 years of schooling in 2001 was 60 percent for girls and 59 percent for boys.[443] In 1999, 90.42 percent of children enrolled in primary school reached grade five.[444] Primary school attendance rates are unavailable for Bhutan. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children's participation in school.[445] Most of the primary schools in southern areas of Bhutan that were closed in 1990 remain closed. The closure of the schools in these areas, which are heavily populated by ethnic Nepalese, effectively limits the ability of ethnic Nepalese to obtain a basic education.[446]

Child Labor Laws and Enforcement

Employment of children is prohibited by the Regulation for Wage Rate, Recruitment Agencies and Workmen's Compensation Act (1994);[447] however, a minimum age has not been established.[448] For all practical purposes, however, the age of 18 has been established as the age of majority in all matters of the state, including employment, by the Marriage Act of 1996.[449] Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by Bhutanese law, and there are no reports that such practices occur.[450] Trafficking in persons is not specifically prohibited,[451] and there have been reports, but no specific information, that children were trafficked from Bhutan to Nepal, India, and Pakistan.[452]

The Government of Bhutan is not a member of the ILO and therefore has not ratified ILO Convention 138 or Convention 182.[453]


[430] The Marriage Act of 1996 raised the minimum age for marriage for both males and females to 18. The Regulation of Wage Rate, Recruitment Agencies and Workmen's Compensation Act prohibits the employment of children. UNICEF, Implementing the Convention, UNICEF in Bhutan, [online] 2003 [cited June 16, 2003]; available from http://www.unicef.org/bhutan/crc.htm. See also UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Summary Record of the 715th Meeting: Bhutan, United Nations, Geneva, June 2001, para. 41.

[431] UNDP, Developing Bhutan's poverty monitoring system, UNDP Bhutan, [online] October 2002 [cited June 16, 2003]; available from http://www.undp.org.bt/fact_sheets/povertyFS.PDF.

[432] Government of Bhutan, The Youth Development Fund, [online] 2003 [cited August 7, 2003]; available from http://www.youthdevfund.gov.bt/. See also UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Summary Record: Bhutan, para. 8. See also Kuensel Newspaper, "Sports: promoting wholesale education," (Thimpu), January 13, 2001; available from http://www.bootan.com/kuensel/20010113/sports.htm.

[433] U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Global Food for Education Pilot Program, Washington D.C., February 2003; available from http://www.fsa.usda.gov/excredits/gfe/congress2003/africa.htm [hard copy on file].

[434] South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Secretariat, Eleventh SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu, press release, January 9, 2002.

[435] UNICEF, Second Chance at Literacy, UNICEF in Bhutan, [online] [cited June 13, 2003]; available from http://www.unicef.org/bhutan/educat.htm. In addition, the Education Department is launching an "inclusive education" program that will integrate students with disabilities into regular schools by renovating one school in each of the 20 school districts to provide basic facilities for disabled students and training for teachers. See UNICEF, Disabled Children Join Mainstream, UNICEF in Bhutan, [online] [cited June 13, 2003]; available from http://www.unicef.org/bhutan/disable.htm.

[436] World Bank, Bhutan – Second Education Project, [project appraisal document] June 4, 2003 [cited June 13, 2003]; available from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDS_IBank_Servlet?pcont=details&eid=000009265_3980312102450.

[437] Asian Development Bank, Reforming Skills Training in Bhutan To Boost Growing Private Sector, [online] 2001 [cited June 16, 2003]; available from http://www.adb.org/Documents/News/2001/nr2001064.asp.

[438] U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Global Food for Education Pilot Program.

[439] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003 [CD-ROM], Washington, D.C., 2003.

[440] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002: Bhutan, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2003, Section 6d; available from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18310.htm. See also UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Initial Reports of State Parties due in 1992: Bhutan, CRC/C/3/Add.60, prepared by Government of Bhutan, pursuant to Article 44 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, October 1999, para. 32.

[441] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Initial Reports of State Parties: Bhutan, para. 138. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Bhutan, Section 5.

[442] UNESCO, Education For All: Year 2000 Assessment [CD-ROM], Paris, 2000.

[443] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Bhutan, Section 5.

[444] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003. This percentage may hide the fact that many children promoted to grade five may combine school and work. In addition, little is known in regard to Bhutanese standards for promoting children through primary school.

[445] For a more detailed discussion on the relationship between school statistics and work, see the preface to this report.

[446] Schools were closed by the government as a result of protests by Southern Bhutanese to the government's "One Nation, One People" citizenship policies. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Bhutan, Section 5. See also Bhutan Association of Human Rights Activists, Government Repression of Southern Bhutanese, [online] [cited December 17, 2003]; available from http://www.hurights.or.jp/wcar/E/doc/other/Refugee/AHURA.htm.

[447] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Initial Reports of State Parties: Bhutan, para. 32.

[448] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Summary Record: Bhutan, para. 23.

[449] Ibid., para.41.

[450] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Bhutan, Sections 6c.

[451] Ibid., Section 6f.

[452] ECPAT International, Bhutan, [database online] 2003 [cited June 25, 2003]; available from http://www.ecpat.net/eng/Ecpat_inter/projects/monitoring/online_database/index.asp.

[453] ILO, Alphabetical list of ILO member countries, Official Relations Branch, [online] 2003 [cited August 7, 2003]; available from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/country.htm. See also U.S. Department of State, Country Reports – 2002: Bhutan, Section 6d.

Search Refworld

Countries