Merely handing down prison terms and fines is not going to deter people from engaging in human trafficking law.

As a party to the Palermo Protocol that the Nepal government ratified last year, Nepal is obligated to make its laws compatible with the provisions of the UN protocol. As such, Nepal must specify that human trafficking crimes will be crimes of moral turpitude in its new anti-human trafficking law. The widely-accepted Palermo Protocol, or the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, is a supplementary treaty to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. Until now crimes that carry a heavy penalty of a prolonged jail term, such as for gruesome murders, are deemed to be crimes of moral turpitude, but human trafficking has not been clearly labelled as such in the concerned act, although it carries a penalty of upto 20 years. Under the current Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Act, 2007, the public prosecutor, in the charge sheet being filed, holds the discretion to decide whether the accused has committed an offence of moral turpitude. Thus, lawyers are of the opinion that unless human trafficking is considered a crime of moral turpitude, the existing act alone cannot serve as a deterrent to the crime in society.

Human trafficking, like drugs and arms, is a highly lucrative business, worth billions of dollars globally, and merely handing down prison terms and fines is not going to deter people from engaging in it. Stipulating human trafficking as a crime of moral turpitude will, among others, disqualify human traffickers from serving in government offices or contesting the elections.

There is, however, a technical hitch when it comes to listing prostitution as a crime of human turpitude.

Under the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act, a person engaging in prostitution could be sentenced to upto three months in prison along with a fine of Rs 2,000-5,000. Thus, prostitution would have to be dealt with in separate laws as making it a crime of human turpitude would be punishing the offenders lifelong after having served a mere sentence of a few months in prison.

Human trafficking has always been a serious problem in Nepal, with girls and women mostly trafficked to India to be sold and eventually forced into the flesh trade. Although exact figures are hard to come by, it is said there are an estimated 200,000 Nepali women and girls, even minors, working as sex workers in Indian brothels after being trafficked. But with Nepali youths landing up all over the world for employment, Nepali women are also being trafficked to the Gulf and African countries, where they are allegedly exploited sexually. Sexual exploitation apart, youths, both boys and girls, are also being increasingly trafficked abroad for labour exploitation. Rape has already been defined as a crime of moral turpitude in Nepal. Also, the Children's Act clearly states that violence against children and sexual assault against them constituted crimes of moral turpitude.

So there is no reason why human trafficking, which could involve violence, torture and multiple rapes over long periods of time, should not be labelled as a crime of moral turpitude in the new anti-human trafficking law.

Parturition service

Many pregnant women in the rural parts of the country die during their labour due to lack of parturition service at the local health centres. Social customs also force them to live in cowsheds for several days away from their home after giving birth to a baby. Such practices are widely practised in mid- and far-western Nepal, where parturition service at the local health centres is utterly lacking. Government efforts to provide this basic need, which is essential for both the pregnant women and new-born babies, has yet to reach a large part of the country.

It is good to learn that Bajura's Kolti Primary Health Centre has brought parturition service from Friday with support from Karnali Health Science Institute (KHSI). This health centre will not only provide parturition service to the people of four local levels of Bajura, but people from Humla and Mugu will also benefit from this service. Before this service was brought into operation, many serious delivery cases used to be referred to Nepalgunj by air, which used to be very expensive for a low-income family. However, the local level and KHSI should ensure that the health centre provides the service round the year.