Nepal is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Nepali men are subjected to forced labor in the Middle East and within the country. Nepali women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in Nepal, India, the Middle East, and China and subjected to forced labor in Nepal, India, and China as domestic servants, beggars, factory workers, mine workers, and in the adult entertainment industry. They are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor elsewhere in Asia, including in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Nepali boys are also exploited in domestic servitude and, along with a number of Indian boys transported to Nepal, subjected to forced labor within the country, especially in brick kilns and the embroidered textiles, or zari, industry. Extreme cases of forced labor in the zari industry frequently involve severe physical abuse of children. Bonded labor exists in agriculture, cattle rearing, brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, and domestic servitude. Bonded laborers freed by a government decree in 2000 are left vulnerable to human trafficking in the absence of sufficient government-mandated rehabilitation services. Children of kamaiya families that were formerly or are currently in bonded labor are also subjected to the kamalari system of domestic servitude. Human traffickers typically target low-caste groups.
Some of the Nepali migrants who willingly seek work in domestic service, construction, or other low-skilled sectors in India, Gulf countries, Malaysia, Israel, South Korea, and Lebanon subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor such as withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, deprivation of food and sleep, and physical or sexual abuse. In many cases, this forced labor is facilitated by recruitment fraud and high recruitment fees charged by unscrupulous Nepal-based labor brokers and manpower agencies. Unregistered migrants—including the large number of Nepalis who travel via India or rely on independent recruiting agents—are more vulnerable to forced labor. Migrants from Bangladesh, Burma, and possibly other countries may transit through Nepal for employment in the Gulf states, fraudulently using Nepali travel documents, and may be subjected to human trafficking.
The Government of Nepal does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so despite limited resources and the absence of a parliamentary body since May 2012. The national anti-trafficking inter-ministerial committee was strengthened under the new leadership of an undersecretary, officials took steps to regulate labor recruitment agencies, and the government published a report on its anti-trafficking efforts. Problems remained, however. Anti-trafficking structures were not fully effective, and trafficking victims did not receive sufficient support from the government. Anti-trafficking laws were inconsistently implemented, and the government ineffectively used funds allocated for protection. Victim identification efforts were weak; child sex trafficking victims were returned to their abusers in the wake of raids, increasing the debts by which they were bonded. Many government officials continued to employ a narrow definition of human trafficking, leaving domestic sex and labor trafficking victims and male victims of transnational labor trafficking unidentified, marginally protected, or re-victimized.
Recommendations for Nepal: Increase law enforcement efforts against all forms of trafficking, including the sex trafficking of Nepali females within Nepal, and against government officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes; ensure trafficking victims are not punished for their involvement in prostitution or forgery of official documents as a direct result of their being trafficked; prosecute labor trafficking offenders who exploit Nepalese migrants abroad and Nepali labor recruiters for charging excessive recruitment fees or engaging in fraudulent recruitment; raise awareness among government officials and the public of the existence of forced prostitution of Nepali women and girls within Nepal; work to revise the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act (HTTCA), or finalize a new draft law to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with international standards; institute a formal procedure to identify victims of trafficking, particularly by police who conduct raids, and refer them to protection services; lift the recent ban on women under age 30 working as domestic workers in the Gulf states, and publicize that policy change; continue to monitor and evaluate anti-trafficking shelters; ensure victim services are available to male victims of trafficking; implement the victim protection provisions of the HTTCA, including protections for victims who serve as witnesses in trafficking prosecutions; improve evidence collection, including by educating victims on the processes required to submit their testimony; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Nepal continued to convict transnational sex trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Nepal prohibits many, but not all, forms of trafficking in persons through the 2007 Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act (HTTCA) and the 2008 Regulation. While the HTTCA criminalizes slavery, bonded labor, and the buying and selling of a person, it does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor or services. It criminalizes forced prostitution but, in a departure from the 2000 UN TIP Protocol’s definition of human trafficking, does not consider the prostitution of children as a form of human trafficking absent force, fraud, or coercion. The law also criminalizes non-trafficking in persons offenses, including engaging in prostitution and removal of human organs. Prescribed penalties range from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The HTTCA, however, shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, requiring the defendant prove he or she did not commit the offense; placing the burden of proof on the suspected victim thereby assumes his or her guilt. Bonded labor is prohibited through the Bonded Labor (Prohibition) Act (2002). Forced child labor and transnational labor trafficking offenses may be prosecuted under the Child Labor Act and the Foreign Employment Act. According to the office of the Attorney General, at least 189 trafficking offenders were convicted under the HTTCA during the Nepali fiscal year, compared with approximately 229 in the previous fiscal year; the government did not provide information on sentences or confirm the number of convicted trafficking offenders who served time in jail. In one case, a district court sentenced a sex trafficking offender to 170 years in jail—the longest sentence recorded in Nepal’s history—and levied a substantial fine. Government officials and civil society groups noted that the vast majority of convictions under the HTTCA were for transnational sex trafficking, and some NGOs reported that many law enforcement authorities do not pay sufficient attention to the problem of sex trafficking within the country. The government included anti-trafficking elements in law enforcement officers’ regular training programs and provided meeting spaces and participated as trainers for some NGO-organized and foreign government-funded trainings. Nevertheless, police officers’ lack of awareness of the law, challenges in evidence collection, and poor investigation techniques impeded prosecutions. A prominent NGO reported that victims prefer civil action or compensation through informal negotiations with the defendant rather than pursuing lengthy criminal prosecutions.
There continued to be NGO reports that some government and political party officials were complicit in trafficking-related crimes. NGOs asserted that political parties sometimes support traffickers and pressure a variety of actors, including police, prosecutors, and the judiciary, to ignore or drop cases, but they did not provide specific examples. Traffickers reportedly use ties to government officials to facilitate trafficking, including by paying bribes for protection and favors, although the scope of the problem is not established. Some Nepali officials reportedly have been bribed to include false information in genuine Nepali passports or to provide fraudulent documents to prospective labor migrants. According to reports, the Government of Nepal continued to investigate nine airport officials for taking bribes to allow workers traveling on inappropriate visas to pass immigration control, a trafficking-related offense, but did not report any prosecutions of government employees for complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The Government of Nepal made limited efforts to protect trafficking victims in the reporting period. Government officials rarely proactively identified victims of trafficking among high-risk persons with whom they came in contact. Some victims of transnational labor exploitation faced legal action for possession of forged travel documents. In raids of “adult entertainment” establishments, some trafficking victims, including girls, were reportedly arrested and then bailed out by their traffickers, further indebting the girls to their exploiters. Other sex trafficking victims were charged under “public offense” provisions of the law. The government did not report the number of victims it identified in the reporting period. Two NGOs reported supporting 960 trafficking victims in 2012, at least 189 of whom were victims of labor trafficking. The government did not provide legally mandated benefits to many bonded laborers who, in past years were freed through government decree, leaving them impoverished and vulnerable to further trafficking. Government and NGO officials jointly rescued more than 120 Nepali and Indian child laborers, likely trafficking victims, in the zari industry. These children were referred to protection services and reunited with their families. The government issued 34 zari factory owners fines of only the equivalent of approximately $112, which anti-trafficking advocates consider an insufficient penalty. A government official noted the risk of these children being re-trafficked, and a follow-up visit six months later revealed that one of the rescued children was re-victimized in the zari industry.
The government continued to run emergency shelters for vulnerable female workers—some of whom were likely trafficking victims—in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates and continued to provide funding to its embassy in India to assist in repatriating Nepali trafficking victims. Some Nepali embassies have referred human trafficking cases to the police via the Department of Foreign Employment (DOFE). While the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) collected fees from departing registered migrant workers for a welfare fund, most of the funds remain unused; the majority of pay-outs were to families of deceased migrant workers. In the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor did not contribute to its fund to assist exploited undocumented workers; there was no information as to whether any Nepali migrant workers benefited from this fund.
The national minimum standards for victim care outline procedures for referring identified victims to protection services; however, the referral system functioned inconsistently. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare (MWCSW) continued to partially fund eight NGO-run shelter homes for female victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault, as well as emergency shelters for victims of trafficking and other forms of abuse, run by local women’s cooperatives, but it is unclear how many of those assisted were trafficking victims. While government officials reported that these shelters are available for men, there is little information on whether any men received protective services in these shelters. Most of the funds the government allocated for protection efforts remained unspent, and in practice many trafficking victims did not receive legally mandated compensation. All facilities that assist trafficking victims in Nepal were run by NGOs, and most provided a range of services. Some of these shelters reportedly limited victims’ ability to move freely and controlled their access to money and to family members. In April 2012, the government adopted psycho-social counseling guidelines developed by an international organization. In partnership with an international organization and the private sector, the government provided job opportunities for some victims. The government encouraged trafficking victims to participate in investigations against their traffickers on an ad hoc basis, such as by providing transportation costs to courts; however, the lack of effective victim-witness protections continued to be a major impediment to prosecutions.
The Government of Nepal increased its efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Under the improved leadership of an MWCSW undersecretary, the inter-ministerial National Committee for Controlling Human Trafficking (NCCHT) continued to meet regularly; formed three working groups to address issues of protection, prosecution, and prevention; and disseminated anti-trafficking policy documents to a number of government officials, particularly through training sessions. In March 2013, the NCCHT also published a report on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The government re-imposed a ban on the migration of females under age 30 to the Gulf states for domestic work; according to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, bans such as these may drive migration further underground and lead to increased human trafficking. The government allocated the equivalent of approximately $2,300 to mark the sixth annual national anti-trafficking day, and federal and district officials participated in rallies throughout the country. In January 2013, the president publicly honored a prominent anti-trafficking activist for her work. NGOs state that the majority of the District Committees for Controlling Human Trafficking (DCCHT) do not function well or are not active; the NCCHT assisted some of the better-performing DCCHTs to form village-level committees to address human trafficking at a local level. The FEPB sponsored a program and short public service announcements on safe migration on the radio.
In the reporting period, the Government of Nepal worked to improve the monitoring of labor recruitment agencies and brokers. For instance, DOFE registered approximately 200 recruitment brokers, an increase from fewer than a dozen registered brokers a year ago, and formally linked those brokers to a single recruitment agency in an effort to clarify lines of responsibility. This is a small fraction of the estimated 30,000 recruitment brokers in Nepal, according to a report by an international anti-trafficking organization. Government-mediated complaints of recruitment agencies resulted in fines and the closure of a number of agencies, but it is unknown whether these recruiters were involved in human trafficking-related activities. Nepali recruitment agencies often register multiple companies; in the event of license cancellation, the agent continues business under a different name. There were no known cases of the criminal prosecution of recruitment agencies for facilitating human trafficking. Efforts by the government to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and child sex tourism, including the prosecution of clients of prostitution in the adult entertainment sector, were mitigated by the government’s punishment of sex trafficking victims. All Nepali military troops and police assigned to international peacekeeping forces were provided pre-deployment anti-trafficking training. Nepal is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.