The government maintained mixed anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2007 HTTCA criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The HTTCA criminalized slavery and bonded labor, but did not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. It criminalized sex trafficking but, inconsistent with international law, required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Prescribed penalties range from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Additionally, the 2002 Bonded Labor (Prohibition) Act criminalized bonded labor and the Child Labor Act criminalized forced child labor; however, neither law prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties. The 2007 FEA criminalized fraudulent and deceptive labor recruitment. For the fourth consecutive year, the National Committee for Controlling Human Trafficking (NCCHT) continued drafting revisions to the HTTCA to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with international law, including a workshop to solicit NGO input. The proposed amendment awaited approval from the Ministry of Finance at the close of the reporting period.
The NPWC conducted 313 investigations under the HTTCA during the Nepali fiscal year, compared with 227 cases in the previous fiscal year. The 313 cases involved 546 alleged traffickers, of whom 447 had been arrested and 99 remained at large. NPWC investigated crimes in which women and girls were the primary victims; other police investigative units handled crimes involving male victims. The CIB investigated 13 transnational trafficking cases and arrested 14 suspects between April and December 2018, compared with eight transnational cases during the same period in 2017. The government initiated prosecutions in 285 cases during the fiscal year and continued prosecution of 190 cases it had initiated in previous years, compared with initiating prosecutions in 303 cases and continuing prosecutions in 184 cases in the previous fiscal year. Officials did not disaggregate data to distinguish between sex and labor trafficking cases. At the district level, courts convicted 213 traffickers during the fiscal year, a significant decrease from 274 and 262 trafficking convictions during the previous two fiscal years. District courts acquitted 113 accused, compared with 233 acquittals the previous fiscal year. The government did not report sentences prescribed to convicted traffickers.
In May 2018, the government allocated limited funding to create the Anti-TIP Bureau, mandated by the HTTCA to investigate all trafficking crimes. As of March 2019, police had filled only 36 of 171 permanent positions in the central bureau, primarily investigators with nationwide jurisdiction. The Anti-TIP Bureau was not yet investigating cases by the close of the reporting period, but staff had begun developing internal SOPs. Police lacked the staff, resources, and training required to patrol Nepal’s nearly 1,100-mile border with India, where significant transnational trafficking occurred; therefore, NGOs conducted the majority of the checkpoint inspections, focusing almost entirely on intercepting female potential trafficking victims. The government had standard training for labor, immigration, judicial, law enforcement, and foreign employment officials that included anti-trafficking elements. During the reporting period, the attorney general’s office trained public prosecutors on victim-centered investigations and prosecutions, and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens (MWCSC) trained law enforcement and civil society on trafficking trends and emergency victim protection. Despite these trainings, police lacked sophisticated investigative techniques and skills to interact in a victim-centered way with trafficking survivors; these deficiencies undermined prosecution efforts. In addition, law enforcement and labor officials continued to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the differences between labor violations and labor trafficking, including how to report and investigate allegations.
Legal experts stated prosecutors could pursue a case under both the HTTCA and the 2007 FEA for transnational labor trafficking and foreign employment fraud, respectively; however, prosecutors regularly refused to do so, believing such action would violate the prohibition against double jeopardy. Many migrant workers remained unaware of the process for obtaining redress, including in cases of trafficking. DFE officials continued to advise abused migrant workers to register complaints under the 2007 FEA rather than notify police. Many victims of transnational labor trafficking with knowledge of the redress process still preferred to submit claims for restitution through the 2007 FEA in lieu of lengthy criminal prosecutions under the HTTCA, citing the desire to avoid the stigma associated with trafficking, the higher potential for compensation through the 2007 FEA, and the lack of time and funding necessary to access the centralized institutions charged with providing redress.
The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. NGOs alleged some police and political party leaders were complicit in sex trafficking in conjunction with their financial involvement in the adult entertainment sector (AES). Observers continued to report some traffickers, including owners of adult entertainment establishments and exploitative orphanages, enjoyed impunity due to personal connections with politicians or by bribing police. Civil society alleged local officials facilitated the falsification of age documents for girls that traffickers exploited in sex trafficking within Nepal and abroad. Traffickers reportedly bribed some government officials to include false information in genuine Nepali passports or provide fraudulent documents to prospective labor migrants or foreign employment agents. NGOs had concerns that because a number of government officials, including parliamentarians, maintained close ties to foreign employment agencies, such officials might have a conflict of interest in approving migrant-friendly practices, such as prosecution of abusive recruitment agencies and increasing protections for migrant workers. In August 2017, a parliamentary committee stated due to the negligence or complicity of immigration officials and police, girls and women had departed the international airport without completing the required exit procedures; the committee stated that up to 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers in the Gulf were working illegally without proper visas and safeguards. The committee called on the government to take action against these immigration officials, but the government had not addressed the issue at the close of the reporting period. In November 2017, a parliamentary commission arrested the Director General of DFE and two DFE officials for allegedly attempting to collect a bribe from a foreign employment agency; law enforcement released the three officials on bail or their own recognizance, and the case was pending at the end of the reporting period. In December 2017, police arrested a recently elected local official for allegedly exploiting two Nepali girls in sex trafficking in India; Nuwakot District Court sentenced the official to 37 years and six months and a fine of 250,000 Nepali rupee (NPR) ($2,240).