The government modestly increased 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. The 2017 Labour Act 2074, which is enforced by specialized labor courts, criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 500,000 Nepali rupees (NPR) ($4,400), or both. Additionally, the 2002 Bonded Labor (Prohibition) Act criminalized bonded labor and prescribed penalties of a fine between 15,000 and 25,000 NPR ($132-$220) and the Child Labour Act criminalized forced child labor and prescribed penalties of up to one year imprisonment, a fine of 50,000 NPR ($440), or both. None of these laws prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties. The 2007 FEA criminalized fraudulent and deceptive labor recruitment. For the fifth consecutive year, revisions to the HTTCA to bring the definition of human trafficking in line with international law remained stalled.
During the Nepali fiscal year, police conducted 258 investigations involving 524 suspects, the Office of the Attorney General initiated prosecution in 407 cases, and district courts convicted 231 traffickers in 110 cases, all under the HTTCA. This is compared to initiating 313 investigations involving 546 suspects, initiating 303 prosecutions and continuing 190 from previous years, and convicting 213 traffickers the previous reporting period. The government did not report sentences prescribed to convicted traffickers. District courts acquitted 243 suspects in 125 cases, compared to 113 acquittals in the previous reporting period. Officials did not disaggregate data to distinguish between sex and labor trafficking cases, and in some reported cases, suspects exploited victims in non-trafficking crimes, such as forced marriage, without evidence of exploitation in forced labor or commercial sex. Some police and prosecutors investigated and prosecuted suspected sex traffickers and facilitators for rape and public offenses. In one high-profile case, the judiciary convicted for child abuse a high-ranking official at an NGO who used his child welfare organization to sexually abuse children, including keeping several children as sex slaves. The court sentenced him to nine years’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay compensation to two victims; the trafficker appealed the conviction at the close of the reporting period.
The government had standard training for labor, immigration, judicial, law enforcement, and foreign employment officials that included general definitions of human trafficking. International donors provided training on trafficking case identification, proactive investigation techniques, and building prosecutions. Despite these trainings, most police lacked sophisticated investigative techniques and resources to interact with trafficking survivors in a victim-centered way. In addition, the dearth of investigators and prosecutors trained to work on trafficking cases, coupled with the frequent turnover, further hampered efforts. The government hired 41 new investigators for the Anti-TIP Bureau, a specialized police unit dedicated to trafficking crimes created in 2018. The unit had filled 77 of 171 anticipated permanent positions at the close of the reporting period and continued to draft internal SOPs to define its operations. Additionally, it opened two new provincial offices. The Anti-TIP Bureau also assumed the mandate for transnational trafficking cases, previously handled by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). While the Anti-TIP Bureau will eventually investigate all human trafficking cases, other agencies continued to investigate cases. The Nepal Police Women’s Cells (NPWC) had female officers in all 77 districts to investigate crimes against women and girls, including trafficking, but not all district offices were fully operational. Law enforcement did not proactively identify trafficking cases, and in many of the referrals it received, the alleged trafficking crimes had occurred more than one year prior, which undermined evidence collection and prosecution efforts. Moreover, police and prosecutors remained reliant on victim testimony for successful cases. Victims often did not want to assist in cases against their perpetrators because the perpetrators were family friends or relatives. Traffickers often bribed victims and their parents not to provide testimony in trafficking cases. Neither the Anti-TIP Bureau nor other law enforcement units had the resources to coordinate with NGOs and victims on registering cases against their traffickers, which made it harder for victims to do so. Police and the judiciary did not always collaborate, which led to police submitting incomplete cases that prosecutors could not pursue in court. Many district courts did not comply with the 2013 Supreme Court directive to adopt a “fast-track” system for human trafficking cases at times due to overwhelming non-trafficking caseloads. While the National Judiciary Academy publicized SOPs on investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, whether officials employed the SOPs varied by judge. Police worked informally with some foreign law enforcement, including Indian officials, on trafficking cases. The government did not report collaboration with Gulf countries on trafficking cases.
NGOs and police monitored some children’s homes and orphanages for child abuse and arrested several suspects during the reporting period, including for human trafficking. Generally, however, authorities rarely prosecuted owners of the exploitative establishments, and the establishments used political connections to circumvent oversight by child protection agencies. The government did not make sufficient efforts to investigate or prosecute suspects for bonded labor. The government continued to misidentify the majority of transnational labor trafficking cases as labor violations and resolved them administratively through the Ministry of Labor, in lieu of criminal investigation, with inadequate sentences for perpetrators. 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. DFE did not refer labor complaints to police to screen for trafficking. 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. Notably, in January 2020, DFE and the police signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to allow labor trafficking victims to file complaints at local police stations instead of requiring them to travel to Kathmandu. However, the government did not report how it communicated this change to migrant workers or local police stations. Many labor trafficking victims 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 to access the centralized institutions charged with providing redress.
The government investigated some officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking, but corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Traffickers continued to bribe government officials to include false information in genuine Nepali passports and 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. However, the government modestly increased efforts to address other allegations of official complicity. In August 2017, parliament ordered the government to take action against negligent and complicit immigration officials and police who had allowed 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers to depart the international airport without completing the required exit procedures. In response, in October 2019, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), a semi-independent investigative body, filed charges against 13 immigration officials for circumventing Nepal’s labor migration restrictions and illegally charging 248 Nepali female migrant workers a 10,000 NPR ($88) fee to send them to Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE) for domestic work. Additionally, in January 2020, CIB opened a criminal investigation into 41 recruitment agencies for earning money from illicit activities while sending migrant workers abroad. In November 2017, the CIAA 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 remained pending at the end of the reporting period. NGOs alleged some police and political party leaders were complicit in sex trafficking in conjunction with their financial involvement in the AES. Some traffickers, including owners of AES establishments and exploitative orphanages, enjoyed impunity due to personal connections with politicians and by bribing police to avoid raids or procure fraudulent identity documents. Observers reported cases in which police solicited sexual favors from sex trafficking victims.
During the reporting period, the UN Human Rights Committee heard two cases against Nepali military officials who allegedly forced one boy and one girl into labor in 2010 and 2002, respectively. In the first case, a Nepali man alleged that when he was between 12 and 14 years old, a Nepali army officer forced him into domestic work for 18 hours per day without pay from 2010-2012. When he escaped in 2012, he alleged the official filed a fraudulent complaint of theft, police arrested and tortured him, which medical reports substantiated, and the judiciary refused to investigate his claims. The committee ordered the government to compensate the man, but it refused to compensate him or criminally investigate the suspects. In the second case, the committee urged the government to support a woman’s claim that in 2002, at age 14, the Royal Nepalese Army and police arrested, detained, forced her into labor at military barracks, and then forced her to become an informant on the anti-government Maoist forces. The government did not report criminally investigating the claims or initiating compensation procedures.