As Nepal prepares to make its laws compatible with the Palermo Protocol that supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, the country must stipulate in the new anti-Human Trafficking law that human trafficking crimes will be crimes of moral turpitude.

Section 22 of the current Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Act, 2007 only states that while framing a charge sheet for an offence under this Act, the concerned public prosecutor may claim that the accused has committed an offence of moral turpitude. This means government attorneys may or may not claim that the accused has committed such an offence. Lawyers believe that unless the law clearly declares that human trafficking crimes are crimes of moral turpitude, it cannot create enough deterrence in society.

Executive Director of Forum for Women, Law and Development Sabin Shrestha said in most of the cases, government attorneys, while filing charge sheet under anti-human trafficking law, did not claim that the accused had committed an offence of moral turpitude.

Advocate Shrestha said declaring human trafficking a crime of moral turpitude could create disqualification from government jobs, political appointments and representation in elected bodies. "Imposing jail term and fines alone are not enough to deter criminals from engaging in human trafficking. They must know that if they commit such heinous crime, they will not be eligible to contest elections or apply for government jobs," he added.

Shrestha said the legislature needed to clearly state in the new anti-human trafficking law that human trafficking crime would be deemed a crime involving moral turpitude.

Spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General Sanjeeb Raj Regmi said government attorneys were claiming in the charge sheet filed under anti-human trafficking law that the accused had committed a crime of moral turpitude, but the court was not ruling in favour of the government attorneys' claim.

"In some cases where the courts have not ruled in our favour, we have filed appeals in the higher court. I hope that the apex court will make things clear about human trafficking being a crime of moral turpitude,"

Regmi said and added, "The Supreme Court had ruled that rape was a crime of moral turpitude. Human trafficking is as heinous a crime as rape and therefore, lawmakers should clearly state in the new anti-trafficking law that it is a crime of moral turpitude."

Regmi added that the new Children's Act had clearly stated that violence against children and crime of sexual assault against children were crimes of moral turpitude.

Section 15 (1) (d) of the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act, imposes one month to three months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000 to 5,000 for a person who is engaged in prostitution.

Executive Director of FWLD Sabin Shrestha said Organised Crime Prevention Act had not listed the crime of human trafficking under its list because some of the provisions in the Act carried less than one year jail term.

According to him, the crime of prostitution should be excluded from human trafficking and dealt with in separate laws and then only would it be possible for lawmakers to list crimes under anti-human trafficking laws as crimes of moral turpitude.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 21, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.