The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2007 HTTCA criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The HTTCA’s definition of trafficking was inconsistent with the international definition of trafficking. It limited the definition of “human trafficking” to the purchase or selling of a person and to causing another person to go into prostitution; did not include a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the base offense; and did not explicitly address forced labor. The law separately defined “human transportation” as the taking of a person from their home or place of residence, through force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of prostitution or the keeping a person as a slave or bonded labor. The HTTCA prescribed penalties ranging from five 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, 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) ($4,270), or both. Additionally, the 2002 Bonded Labor (Prohibition) Act abolished bonded labor and prescribed civil penalties of a fine between 15,000 NPR and 25,000 NPR ($128-$214). The 2000 Child Labour Act criminalized forced child labor and prescribed penalties of up to one year imprisonment, a fine of 50,000 NPR ($427), or both. None of these laws prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties. The 2007 FEA criminalized fraudulent and deceptive labor recruitment of Nepalese for work abroad and was often utilized in labor trafficking cases in lieu of the HTTCA. Penalties prescribed under this law were significantly lower than those available under the HTTCA. For the sixth consecutive year, the government’s National Committee for Controlling Human Trafficking (NCCHT) continued to work on revisions to the HTTCA by forming a working committee which sought input from civil society stakeholders. The pandemic and political unrest impacted the ability of the NCCHT to finalize the revisions during the reporting period, which in turn impacted the formation of provincial and local level committees for combatting human trafficking. The Government of Nepal amended the Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Rules (HTTCR) to bring it in line with Nepal’s federal system during the reporting period.
Due to the pandemic, the government closed the courts for three months of the reporting period, which impacted the prosecution of cases. Once courts reopened, NGOs reported restrictions on transportation and COVID-19 testing requirements made it difficult to obtain victims’ statements and testimony. During the Nepali fiscal year, police conducted 97 investigations involving 240 suspects, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) initiated prosecution in 170 cases against 415 suspects, and district courts convicted 202 traffickers in 88 cases, all under the HTTCA. This is a decrease compared to initiating 258 investigations involving 524 suspects, initiating 407 prosecutions from previous years, and convicting 231 traffickers the previous reporting period. The government did not report the number of ongoing cases or the sentences prescribed to convicted traffickers. District courts acquitted 108 suspects in 48 cases, compared to 243 acquittals in the previous reporting period. Officials did not disaggregate data to distinguish between sex and labor trafficking cases, and some cases might not include 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.
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 anti-trafficking trainings for the Anti-TIP Bureau. Due to the pandemic, police reported they were unable to conduct trafficking victim identification trainings, although other trafficking awareness trainings were held virtually. Despite these trainings, however, 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 frequent turnover, further hampered efforts. The Anti-TIP Bureau, a specialized police unit dedicated to trafficking crimes created in 2018, had filled 77 Kathmandu positions as well as 240 regional positions by the end of the reporting period. While the Anti-TIP Bureau will eventually investigate all human trafficking cases, other agencies continued to investigate cases during the reporting period. 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 had cells that were fully operational. While investigative capacity is improving, law enforcement did not proactively identify trafficking cases and some of the referrals it received, 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 effectively coordinate with NGOs and victims on registering cases against their traffickers, which made it harder for victims to do so. Pandemic related lockdowns and court closures further exacerbated these issues during the reporting period. 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. This was at times due to stipulations of the law that did not allow a fast track court case, delays related to the pandemic, and non-trafficking caseloads. While the National Judiciary Academy publicized SOPs on investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, whether or not officials employed the SOPs varied by judge. The Nepal police have one liaison officer in New Delhi. Nepal Police coordinated and cooperated on international investigations of trafficking related crimes through INTERPOL and other Diplomatic Missions. INTERPOL’s Tools and Services are being used to apprehend suspects who have absconded in trafficking related cases. Nepali law enforcement agencies also work on an informal basis with their counterparts in other countries—most frequently India—in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases. Due to the informal nature of these relationships, data on cooperative efforts were not compiled. The government did not report collaboration with Gulf countries on trafficking cases, despite high numbers of Nepali victims in the region.
Nepali parents give their children to brokers who promise education or work opportunities but instead take them to frequently unregistered children’s homes and force them to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers and where some force children into manual labor or begging, force them to entertain visitors for donations and sexually abuse them. International organizations and NGOs estimated that 80 to 85 percent of children in “children’s homes” and orphanages had at least one living parent at home. NGOs noted that, although there is increased willingness to take action against the operators of children’s homes, prosecution remains a challenge. Many of the individuals running these exploitative institutions are politically connected and viewed favorably within their community. NGOs state that even when arrested, they are almost never prosecuted and often use political connections to thwart child protective agencies. Prior to the pandemic-related lockdowns, the government directed children’s homes to return children to their families. The government did not report screening the children for trafficking indicators before they were sent home. While 1,500 children were reunited with their families, NGOs reported 11,000 remained in registered homes and orphanages.
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, Employment, and Social Security (MoLESS), 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. 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. In January 2020 DFE and the police signed an MOU to allow labor trafficking victims to file complaints at local police stations instead of requiring them to travel to Kathmandu. During the reporting period, the DFE investigated five cases reported at 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 did not investigate any officials for complicity in human trafficking, but corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. The pandemic-related lockdown, a five-month airport closure, and the economic fallout in many destination countries disrupted labor migration for much of the reporting period and may have removed some opportunities for corruption. During previous reporting periods, NGOs reported traffickers bribed 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. In November 2017, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority arrested the Director General of DFE and two DFE officials for allegedly attempting to collect a bribe from a foreign employment agency. In December 2020, the former Director General was convicted and sentenced to one and a half years in prison and a one million NPR ($8,550) fine. One of the DFE officers received the same sentence as the former Director General, and the other was acquitted. 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.
During the previous 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 do so or to 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 former Royal Nepalese Army and police arrested, detained, forced her into labor at military barracks, and then they forced her to become an informant on the anti-government Maoist forces. The government has yet to initiate any criminal investigations or compensation procedures.