The government needs to amend human trafficking laws to make them compatible with the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime also known as Palermo protocol. The government had ratified the protocol in 2020.

Executive Director of Forum for Women, Law and Development Sabin Shrestha said the amendment was necessary to broaden the definition of human trafficking and clarify differences between human trafficking, migrant workers and human smuggling. He said the existing laws did not treat Nepal as transit and destination country for human trafficking victims, so the laws needed to be amended. Domestic laws also need to address issues related to human trafficking victims.

"Our laws not only need to ensure the rights of Nepali victims who are trafficked to foreign countries but also of foreign victims who are trafficked to Nepal," Shrestha said.

In the past, Nepali women were trafficked to India for sexual exploitation, but in recent years victims are being trafficked to other parts of the word not just for sexual exploitation but also for labour exploitation and for human organ extraction, Shrestha said. The law needs to take a comprehensive approach to address human trafficking and human smuggling. Nepal has enacted new organised crime law, but it has not defined human trafficking as a form of organised crime.

Adviser of People's Forum for Human Rights-Nepal Som Prasad Luitel said ratification of Palermo protocol entailed amendment not only to Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act and Foreign Employment Act but also The Immigration Act, 1992. He said the Palermo protocol defined forced labour as a crime of human trafficking, but Nepali laws did not.

"Our laws have addressed the issue of forced labour to the extent of bonded labour but not cases where unscrupulous elements seize identity documents of victims or hold back their pay," he said. According to Luitel, many victims who had been trafficked in the garb of Foreign Employment were found to have filed case under Foreign Employment Act as they got more compensation in comparison to Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act.

Luitel said amendment should be made to the Immigration Act to ensure that human trafficking victims were not prosecuted for overstaying in Nepal.

"Palermo protocol says that victims of human trafficking country should not be prosecuted for overstaying because doing so could make them double victims.

Our laws need to be changed to make similar provisions in our country," he added.

According to Luitel, the government will also have to increase awareness among people and address the causes that are at the root of human trafficking and transportation crime to meet the obligation of Palermo protocol.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 7, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.