Government must up its efforts to prevent human trafficking, stakeholders sayChanging forms of human trafficking and gap in existing laws have made things worse for the victims as well as authorities working to prevent them.
Nepal government should implement recommendations made by other countries during the 37th session of the Univeral Periodic Review (UPR) for effectively combating human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, stakeholders have urged.
During the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights progress and commitments of all UN member states, other member states had presented as many as 14 recommendations to Nepal for tackling human trafficking issues.
According to Sabin Shrestha, a human rights lawyer, these recommendations are significant for dealing with human trafficking challenges facing the country.
“There are a number of recommendations which are relevant for the prohibition of human trafficking and addressing the rights and safety of migrant workers,” said Shrestha, who is also executive director at the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), a non-governmental organisation involved in the promotion of non-discrimination and equality. “Broadly, all of them talk about making our laws in line with international laws and conventions, intensifying our efforts in eliminating human trafficking incidents, increasing investment and early identification of victims so that the risk of them being trafficked could be averted.”
As part of expressing its commitments and progress, the Nepal government had submitted a 33-page report at the UN Human Rights Council on the UPR last year in October.
Under the UPR system, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva reviews each country’s human rights record every five years. Upon receipt of the report, countries question each other for their failure to abide by their past commitments to promoting human rights.
During the 37th session held in January this year, the Nepal government had a tough time facing questions for failing to meet its commitments related to various human rights-related issues including human trafficking.
Under the theme of human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, most of the countries urged Nepal to intensify its efforts to prevent trafficking in person, sexual exploitation, forced labour and all forms of slavery.
Among the most significant recommendations, Nepal was also asked to modify the definition of human trafficking in tandem with existing international laws.
Armenia suggested Nepal revise its Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with international law and to include all aspects of human trafficking.
“One of the major recommendations, as pointed out during the session, is in Nepal’s definition of human trafficking. There should be one definition of human trafficking and transportation, but the existing law treats transportation differently although it is also human trafficking,” said Shrestha. “Not having a uniform definition or conflicting one can affect extradition and treatment of human trafficking cases in a different manner even though they are an international crime.”
Shrestha pointed out that trafficking-related laws of Nepal define transportation of individuals from one place to another within the country or outside the country but exclude transportation of individuals to Nepal from outside.
“This means the incidents of traffickers bringing people from other countries to Nepal cannot be considered human trafficking,” said Shrestha. “In reality, there have been instances where Nepal has been used as a transit or even destination country.”
Over the years, Nepal has emerged as a source, as well as a transit and destination for human trafficking.
Trafficking in Nepali citizens remains a big challenge for the country as traffickers use the open border–not only to traffic them to India but also to further smuggle them to the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia, luring them with the promise of jobs and better lifestyle.
As per the annual report of the National Human Rights Commission, published in 2019, nearly 1.5 million Nepalis are at risk of various forms of human trafficking. The report pointed out that aspiring migrant workers, Nepalis working abroad, people in the adult entertainment sector, girls and women from rural areas, missing persons and child labourers were among the groups most vulnerable to trafficking. The report estimated that nearly 35,000 Nepali citizens—15,000 men, 15,000 women and 5,000 children—were trafficked in 2018-19.
Human trafficking under the guise of foreign employment has been rampant, but has gone largely unpunished because of the limited definition of human trafficking that does not recognise labour migration-related trafficking, according to experts.
“Human trafficking has been a major challenge for the country for several years. Changing forms of human trafficking under the pretext of foreign employment, abroad studies and entertainment sector jobs, have further complicated things,” said Shreshta. “Forcing an individual to work against their consent or through deception is a form of human trafficking, but it is missing in our trafficking laws. Also, because of social stigma and the need for quick monetary compensation, the person trafficked in the name of foreign employment reaches out to the Department of Foreign Employment rather than filing a police case.”
Considering this gap, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland have urged the Nepal government to harmonise the Foreign Employment Act and Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act to ensure consistency with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, commonly known as Palermo Protocol.
After several years of waiting, Nepal became the 176th country to ratify the Palermo Protocol in June last year. Ratification of the protocol meant Nepal needs to make changes to several of its laws to comply with the Protocol to protect its citizens from human trafficking and ensuring their human rights.
“The government is committed to protecting its citizens from potential human trafficking, although its changing forms have added challenges,” said Meena Paudel, chief of Human Trafficking and Transportation Division under the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens. “As per the recommendations, the definition of human trafficking is being reviewed and a draft has been shared among stakeholders for consultation.”