Nepal has taken a step forward against human trafficking in recent years by ratifying the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Person especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), a major international instrument to combat human trafficking.

However, the country has not made the definition of human trafficking crime compatible with the internationally recognised definition.

Executive Director of Forum for Women, Law and Development Sabin Shrestha said at an interaction today that international laws defined the transportation of human beings within and outside the nation's boundary for the purpose of exploitation as a human trafficking crime but Nepal's Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act did not consider human transportation as the crime of human trafficking.

Shrestha said if Nepal did not amend its laws to make its definition of human trafficking crime compatible with the provisions of international laws, then the country could face difficulty in the extradition of criminals and collaboration with foreign countries.

Palermo protocol urges the countries to collaborate with one another in the fight against the crime of human trafficking.

He said Lalitpur District Court had acquitted defendants accused of bringing women from India's Darjeeling and forcing them to indulge in sex acts in one case of human trafficking after the defence lawyer argued that the anti-human trafficking laws did not deem the transportation of foreign girls into Nepal a crime of human trafficking. Stating that there were incidents of foreign girls being trafficked to China via Nepal, Shrestha said the definition of human trafficking should include the possibility of Nepal being used as a transit country.

Shrestha also said that Nepal's Foreign Employment Act wrongly treated human trafficking as only a crime of fraud. "If a Nepali migrant worker becomes a victim of fraudulent recruitment or if a person who has been promised one type of job by the agencies involved in the recruitment process offers a different job in the labour destination countries, then that act should also be considered as a crime of human trafficking but as per Foreign Employment Act, such acts are merely treated as a case of fraud," Shrestha said, adding that amendment should be made in the existing laws of Nepal to allow the government attorneys to slap charges against human traffickers if people involved in recruiting Nepali migrant workers exploit them or involve in fraud. Until now, government attorneys who investigate such cases avoid filing both the cases - cases of fraud and human trafficking - against the accused citing that they were constrained by the principle of double jeopardy.

Shrestha said Section 55 of Foreign Employment Act had provisions for fraud, but there was no punishment for the guilty.

Coalition for NGOs for Nepal on Anti-Trafficking has submitted a shadow report to the Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review stating that Nepal now needed to amend 10 Acts, including Human Trafficking and Transportation Act, Foreign Employment Act, Organised Crime Prevention Act, Immigration Act, Labour Act, Mutual Legal Assistance Act, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, Extradition Act, Children Act and Muluki Criminal Code to make domestic provisions compatible with Palermo Protocol.

Various countries had made 14 recommendations to the Nepal government during the UPR review in January to address the crimes of human trafficking. The government will have to address those concerns before it presents its next periodic review.

Under-secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens Mina Paudel said there were some shortcomings in the existing laws and her ministry was trying to address them. She said some activities had to be carried out by the provincial and local governments to combat human trafficking. She said the government had yet to formulate the Child Rights Regulation.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 27 2021, of The Himalayan Times.