Women and children have become particularly vulnerable to trafficking after earthquakes.
Human trafficking is a global phenomenon and Nepal is no exception. The illicit trade of humans continues despite decades of policy initiatives, legislation, social activism, international assistance and media advocacy against it. Attempts were made to traffic as many as 23,000 Nepalis in the last fiscal, according to a recently released report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The victims are usually poor and illiterate women and children from rural areas.
Nepali women and children became particularly vulnerable to trafficking after the 2015 earthquakes that displaced hundreds of thousands of villagers. According to the NHRC report, 6,100 persons were trafficked this year, 13,600 were ‘attempted to be trafficked’ while 3,900 persons are missing. Around 44,131 children were vulnerable to trafficking in 14 earthquake affected districts, says the report.
Trafficking in Persons Report of the US State Department also says that Nepal “government doesn’t fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” even though it is making efforts to do so.
It is disheartening that human trafficking is on the rise even as both state and non-state actors are working to eliminate this evil practice. Now is the time for unified policies and programs to curb human trafficking.
Traffickers use different tactics to lure poor Nepali women and children. NHRC reports that 83 marriage bureaus in Nepal are arranging marriage of Nepalis girls with South Korean and Chinese nationals. And so, between 2005 and 2013, as many as 1,000 female Nepali migrants reached South Korea as brides, of whom only 300 are happily married. The rest are living like slaves. Likewise, Nepali women are increasingly trafficked to China as ‘brides’.
Traffickers promise women decent jobs abroad. But these women are taken as far as Nigeria and made to work in dance bars, including in sex trade. Likewise, many Nepali children are trafficked and sold in India. Some work in circuses, others work as domestic helpers. Some are trafficked for vital body parts while others are made to beg in the streets. Trafficked women and children are physically and sexually exploited in Indian brothels.
The vast majority of women seeking to escape poverty fall into this trap. Trafficking is also the result of gender discrimination. Unequal power relations reinforce women’s secondary status in the society. Victims of trafficking are deprived of their basic human rights and lack of access to redress the crimes against them. It can be said that human trafficking in Nepal is class as well caste issue. Majority of human trafficking victims struggle for two meals a day and women and girls from ethnic as well as Dalit backgrounds are disproportionately trafficked. The NHRC report further states that 83 percent of women trafficked abroad are illiterate.
Attempts were made to control human trafficking after the restoration of democracy in 1990. But the proliferation of NGOs and community based organizations has done nothing to stem trafficking, as they often fail to address the root causes.
One big legal obstacle to apprehending traffickers to India is 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship that allows citizens of Nepal and India to travel freely between the countries without any passport or visa. The open border facilitated trade and transit between the two countries also boosted traffickers’ morale. With better vigilance at the border, the number of trafficking cases can be substantially reduced.
The second problem is that Nepal does not set aside adequate resources to fight human trafficking. Almost all of the little that it invests towards this goal comes from donors.
The third problem is that our anti-trafficking policies are poorly integrated with other social initiatives. There is no coordination between the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and other ministries dealing with infrastructure development, community development, employment generation, and poverty alleviation.
The political will to take on traffickers is also missing as even convicted traffickers can be seen moving freely inside the country. Moreover, NGOs working against human trafficking have failed to coordinate their efforts due to their many ideological differences.
The only way Nepal can make a significant dent on human trafficking is if all these relevant agencies, both government and non-government, can learn to somehow set aside their differences and together fight this scourge.