Beware of beautiful dreams

Poverty, unemployment and lack of awareness are among the many factors that feed human trafficking


Sandhya*, a BA degree holder from Pokhara, was taken to India on the pretext of meeting Salman Khan, the Bollywood heartthrob. The naive girl was forced into prostitution once she reached Mumbai, India. Sabita*, lured by the promise of employment and high pay as a housemaid, found herself in Iran; she did get employed but was sexually exploited, physically harassed and not paid.

These are just a few examples of Nepali women trafficked out of the country with promises of a better future and living their dreams. Wanting to make a decent living for themselves and their families, thousands of Nepalis fall into the trap set by human traffickers. According to the National Human Right Commission, Office of Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons (NHRC-OSRT) report published in March 2016, poverty, unemployment, gender-based inequalities, social inequalities, lack of education, lack of awareness about safe migration and open borders are the driving factors that keep the human trafficking market thriving.

New destinations, new patterns

“Earlier, it was assumed that crossing the Indian border, brothels in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune et cetera were the major ends and hotspots of human trafficking,” says Anuradha Koirala, Founder and Chairperson of Maiti Nepal. “However, various rescue operations and reported cases reveal that the destinations for human trafficking are spreading with ever changing forms and patterns.”

As per recent reports and cases, traffickers are using new routes of transit such as Sri Lanka and Cambodia to fly Nepali women to different parts of the world. Nepali women and girls are trafficked to Iraq, Iran, Oman, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, China, et cetera. The women unwittingly fall prey to false promises, fake marriages, holidays, and more often than not intimidation and threats from the traffickers.

The NHRC-OSRT report also identified that Khasa, Chinese border with Nepal, as an emerging sex trafficking destination for Nepali women and girls. Beyond sex-exploitation, these women are trafficked for modern form of slavery including debt bondage, employment in entertainment industry, organ trade, surrogacy, construction, domestic work, begging et cetera.

Along with international and transnational levels, internal trafficking is also rampant. Restaurants, dance bars, cabins, massage parlours and spas are found to be major hotspots of human trafficking. Citing that the Nepal Police conduct random raids on these places, Spokesperson of Nepal Police Headquarters SSP Sarbendra Khanal laments the fact that women found in these conditions often refuse to file cases against their perpetrators because most of them are victims to these situations mainly due to their own relatives and known persons.

Most vulnerable

According to Kamal Thapa Kshetri, Human Rights Officer of NHRC-OSRT, financially poor and school dropouts children and girls, and people with no shelter over their heads are the most vulnerable to human trafficking. However, Sunita Danuwar, Founder of Shakti Samuha, says that because every individual, literate or otherwise, seeks better opportunities and higher income, even the literate urban populace fall prey to the promises of a shrewd trafficker. Danuwar says, “The only difference is a literate person will contemplate his/ her move before making the final decision of leaving his/ her homeland. However, the fact that many educated people too are unaware of complex legal processes to comply with fail to identify authorised manpower agencies and sign up with crooked agencies that leave them in a limbo once they reach foreign shores.”

She further informs that human trafficking is developing as an organised crime and a large network-based business.

Redefine Concept

According to Danuwar, due to lack of conceptual clarity and conventional definition of human trafficking at the policy level, convicts are released with liberal legal punishments. Citing an example of the case of a girl who was trafficked to Iraq and who was later rescued from forced and bonded domestic work, she shares, “Although the case has the components of human trafficking, the convict was released with a minor charge of cheating.”

She stressed that the definition of human trafficking in Nepal does not match with that of the United Nations. The

Report of Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (OMCTP) 2016 suggests revision of the Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Act (HTTCA) to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with international law. However, Toyam Raya, Spokesperson of Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) says that the Ministry updates the policy as and when required.

“The Ministry has not actively participated in mitigating or monitoring human trafficking cases because we work directly with all I/NGOs working on these cases. We give them full support when sought. We assist in terms of funds for rescue operations in foreign lands,” he says.

He claims that the Ministry takes women and children issues seriously and has formed a working committee to

combat trafficking.

Efforts intensified

“Given the fact that Nepalis are aware of this growing problem and concerned stakeholders are lobbying with the authorities to do more, successful rescue operations by the police and different NGOs from different parts of the world, have increased significantly,” says Kshetri.

According to Khanal, the rise in intervention by Nepal Police and I/NGOs in areas prone to human trafficking has majorly prevented possible attempts of human trafficking. According to data provided by Nepal Police Headquarters, in the fiscal year 2073-74 BS, a total of 1,290 women and children were prevented from being trafficked from national and cross-country border areas (Biratnagar, Hetaunda, Pokhara, Surkhet, Dipayal, Kathmandu Valley). The report shows that 212 cases were filed in the fiscal year 2072-73 BS and there were 181 cases reported in fiscal year 2071-72 BS. Khanal says that although there is an increase in registration of human trafficking cases, it does not mean that human trafficking itself has increased; most of the cases registered are those of successful rescue operations. He further states that although the exact data of the number of people trafficked from Nepal to foreign shores is hard to track, it is estimated to be in thousands.

Police report also shows that 227 convicts of human trafficking were arrested in the previous fiscal year (2072-73 BS). Khanal further informs that Nepal Police have established Anti-Trafficking Cell and Women Cell in every district as a measure to monitor and curb human trafficking.

Rehabilitation necessary

“With rehabilitation of a limited time period with provision of skill-based trainings, survivors are reintegrated to their families after analysing risk assessment,” says Danuwar. However, Sanjita Timalsina, Programme Coordinator of Women Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) disagrees. She said, “With the government’s prevalent reintegration policy, there is a high chance of re-trafficking due to poor reintegration facilities. The trainings provided by most shelter homes do not equip the rescued to fulfil their financial needs, hence, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking.”

Safety measures

Despite increase in awareness campaigns and prevention attempts, human trafficking is yet to be controlled significantly or eradicated completely. Kshetri says, “Awareness programmes alone would not work to fight against human trafficking. To combat human trafficking, better income generating employment should be created and people should be aware about safe migration.”

Khanal believes, “The legal route should be thoroughly understood to ensure safe passage to foreign countries and to be able to earn a decent living without threat of exploitation of any kind.”

Koirala stresses that human trafficking could be mitigated to a certain extent if the government and private businesses create job opportunities, provide compulsory education and continuous monitoring and evaluation. She says, “Human trafficking can be contributed to many factors — economic, social, and political — and in order to completely rid the country of human trafficking, we have to look into the fabric of the society we’ve built. There must be active participation from all levels to sensitise individuals on the vulnerability our people face, but most of all we must better our services in terms of education, health, security, economic prosperity as a nation. This change is needed on individual and community levels.”

* Names changed on request