Nepal: Government Complicit in Human Trafficking
Thursday, July 8, 2010 11:30 AM

Local activists cite the Nepalese government as a primary factor in the increased human trafficking of women and girls. NGOs argue the government’s failure to enforce its anti-trafficking laws has resulted in this increase. Experts claim these women and girls are primarily being exploited in Indian brothels. 
Human trafficking has been a growing problem in Nepal for decades. The government estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 women and girls were trafficked to Indian brothels annually in the early 1990’s. Maiti Nepal, an NGO that fights human trafficking, uses border patrols to stop trafficking across the border. Of those women and girls being trafficked, it is estimated that three out of four will be trafficked to Indian brothels, and the rest to brothels in the Middle East. The organization stopped 17,000 women and girls at the border in 2009 alone.
It is difficult to determine how much the situation has deteriorated in recent years as there has been no official data collected by the government. "It is often the NGOs who are involved in checking the borders, investigating the crimes, protecting the witnesses and following up cases in court," Biswo Khadga, director of Maiti Nepal, explains. With a 1,800 kilometer border between Nepal and India, NGOs are often financially unable to completely monitor the borders. Documenting the situation is complicated by labor migration; 100,000 female migrant workers enter India annually without documentation or work visas.
Frequently, traffickers in Nepal are gang members with strong connections to Indian brothel owners. These traffickers will often lure Nepalese girls and women to Kathmandu by falsely promising jobs and marriage. Historically, women and girls from the poorest districts were most affected by human traffickers. However, as the Nepalese infrastructure has improved, traffickers now have access to women and girls throughout the country.
Nepal passed the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act in 2008. This legislation criminalizes human trafficking and establishes that traffickers may be incarcerated up to 20 years or be forced to pay $2,600 in fines. Victims are also compensated under the bill. However, the rate of human trafficking has not decreased since the legislation passed.
Members of local NGOs point to the weak implementation of the anti-trafficking laws as a primary reason for the steady levels of human trafficking. Samrakshak Samuha Nepal (SASANE), an NGO that works with victims of trafficking, has monitored the effect of this bill. Shyam Kumar Pokharel, director of SASANE explains, "The crucial problem is weak implementation of anti-trafficking laws allowing the traffickers to operate easily… Although thousands of traffickers have been arrested, only a few hundred have been convicted."
Leaders of anti-trafficking NGOs also articulate discontent with the government’s minimal reporting of cases. In 2010, only 123 cases were registered within the Nepalese legal system. Other criticisms involve the government’s implementation of rehabilitation centers. The Trafficking Act mandated the government to establish rehabilitation centers; however, NGOs are wholly responsible for implementing the nation’s three rehabilitation centers. Anonymous government officials cite weak governance and political instability for its lack of action.
Recently, the United States State Department has also drawn attention to Nepal’s lack of action on the topic of trafficking. Released in June, its annual trafficking report calls the government “complicit” in human trafficking. The report encourages Nepal to create a more efficient manner to monitor trafficking cases and strengthen the National Human-Trafficking Task Force.