Harsh laws, stiff penaltiesMultiple loopholes need to be closed to prevent trafficking of Nepali women and girls.
Nepal is failing its women and girls. As per the 2022 National Human Rights Report, around 40,300 Nepalis, most of them women and girls, were trafficked over the past two years, while around 1.9 million people are at risk for trafficking. Those trafficked from Nepal are mostly taken to India, trafficking being abetted by open borders and cultural similarities. Around 50 women are taken to the southern neighbour every single day, which also happens to be a transit point for trafficking to many other countries. An alarming overall picture emerges: Maiti Nepal, an organisation that rescues and rehabilitates trafficked women, has saved 52,047 women and girls from the potential risk of trafficking from the Nepal-India and Nepal-China border.
Yet these numbers, as high as they are, could still be gross underestimates. Many cases are swept under the rug as the perpetrators are often relatives or friends of the victims. They cajole the illiterate, unemployed and poor women with promises of a better life and job opportunities in India, and then sell them to brothels. Until a few years ago, according to the police, uneducated women from rural areas were at risk for trafficking; but now the trend has shifted, and educated women in the cities are also at risk, mainly due to the ease with which traffickers can contact potential victims over social media.
This crime has continued unabated despite continuous efforts by governmental and non-governmental organisations. Citing Nepal’s inadequate efforts to eliminate trafficking, the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States placed Nepal on Tier 2, an inferior ranking, for the country’s failure to meet minimum standards on things like “criminalising all forms of labour trafficking and sex trafficking and finalising its long-pending draft amendments”. The 2022 National Human Rights Report acknowledges that while the Human Trafficking Transportation (Control) Act is under implementation, the scope of human trafficking covered doesn’t criminalise all forms of sex and labour trafficking. For instance, there is no provision for forced labour exploitation, fake marriages or trafficking in the guise of labour migration. Given the many loopholes in the existing laws, plus lack of jobs and education for women, it has become difficult to control human trafficking and easy for criminals to entrap women and young girls.
As many Nepalis don’t recognise human trafficking as a crime, and are afraid of exposing their relatives as criminals, not many incidents are reported to the police, and even fewer seek justice. In the past two fiscal years, only 270 cases were registered. Sadly, there seems to be no easy way to break this cycle of underreporting in a society that still correlates women’s sexuality with family honour. But more can be done to strengthen the borders. In 2015, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments registered a memorandum of understanding to prevent all illegal cross-border activities. Nepal and India have held several rounds of anti-trafficking meetings, but there is still no formal pact between them. Besides working to have a bilateral agreement in place, the government can collaborate with organisations such as Maiti Nepal, Aatwin and Shakti Samuha to strengthen border screening. Moreover, it is vital to reach out to and educate women, families as well as communities on trafficking. Only through a collective effort can this most degrading form of human rights abuse be stopped.