The government decreased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified 207 victims, including 129 sex trafficking survivors and 78 labor trafficking survivors, compared with 187 victims in the previous reporting period. Nearly 70 percent of identified victims were exploited in Nepal while 30 percent were exploited in India, Cambodia, Laos, Russia, and the Gulf countries. The government continued to allocate 10 million NPR ($75,610) for victim services, including repatriation assistance for victims abroad, during fiscal year 2021 to 2022.
The government did not have formal SOPs for victim identification and referral to services, impeding proactive identification efforts; the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens (MoWCSC) previously drafted SOPs that remained pending final approval by the end of the reporting period. NPWC had internal guidelines on victim identification, including treatment of victims. The government had national standards for care of trafficking victims, which included procedures to refer victims to care; however, referral efforts remained ad hoc and inconsistent. Observers reported the government lacked formal SOPs to refer victims to shelter services. FEB and MoLESS continued to finalize an SOP to expand and improve procedures to guide referrals to shelter services for both male and female trafficking survivors and returning migrant workers; the current SOP and government practices focus on GBV and trafficking of women and girls. The government continued to lack data on the number of victims it referred for care or how many survivors used these services. NPWC typically referred trafficking victims to government-established, one-stop emergency centers or civil society organizations, both of which could provide shelter, medical, and legal services. Although public hospitals provided some victim services, hospitals often charged civil society organizations for medical assistance to trafficking victims. The pandemic continued to impact anti-trafficking efforts, including reducing resources and capacity to provide services to survivors.
The MoWCSC, in partnership with civil society organizations, operated 10 shelter homes for victims of GBV and human trafficking, although civil society organizations led operations of most shelters. These shelters provided services to 2,260 individuals, which may have included trafficking victims, compared to 2,628 during the previous period. The government also operated two long-term shelters that could assist trafficking victims, offering counselling, health services, legal support, and employment programs. In addition, MoWCSC supported 22 short-term service centers, a long-term shelter for women, and the first of several planned provincial shelters for GBV survivors, including trafficking victims. MoWCSC paid for basic needs, including lodging, food, health services, and psychosocial counseling of victims receiving services, while civil society organizations covered other administrative and staff costs and provided most victim-care facilities. Although most shelters served women and children, the government reported male trafficking victims were eligible for placement in government-funded shelters, and the National Committee for Controlling Human Trafficking (NCCHT) could reallocate funds if male victims sought services. Shelters for individuals with disabilities remained inadequate. The NCCHT monitored the 10 shelters and required its partner civil society organizations to periodically submit details of their operations; similarly, district anti-trafficking committees were required to conduct at least one monitoring visit to government-funded shelters every six months, and the NCCHT could conduct additional inspections as needed. The National Child Rights Council, which monitored childcare homes remotely and with the assistance of civil society organizations, removed 72 children from exploitation in abusive and unregistered children’s homes and reunified 1,211 children with their families, compared with 84 children removed during the previous year. MoWCSC provided anti-trafficking training for staff at victim shelters, and officials trained local government representatives and orphanage staff on minimum standards for operating care homes. In December 2022, the government finalized a SOP for operating childcare homes and began efforts to reduce the overall number of children’s institutions; however, many positions to monitor children’s homes remained unfilled, hindering overall efforts.
The government had some victim-witness assistance available to support victims participating in investigations and prosecutions, but lacked a formal victim-witness assistance program. The government could provide psychosocial counseling, transportation, up to three months of shelter, and police security; however, the government did not report how many victims received assistance. However, in civil suits, most victims remained unaware of the HTTCA provision granting the right to private representation; even in cases where victims had private representation, the attorneys often struggled to build strong cases due to obstacles in obtaining critical information from law enforcement. The DoFE and police utilized a 2020 MOU which allowed labor trafficking victims to file complaints at local police stations, rather than traveling to Kathmandu, to increase victim participation in cases. Victims could provide testimony via video or written statement; however, most courts did not have facilities for video conferences, and officials often did not make victims aware of the option. Victims continued to report challenges in providing testimony, including threats from perpetrators. Notably, resource limitations impeded authorities’ provision of a victim’s right to police protection, and observers stated victims were reluctant to file criminal complaints under HTTCA. In addition, the HTTCA authorized the judiciary to fine victims who failed to appear in court and hold victims criminally liable for providing testimony contradicting their previous statements. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have arrested, detained, and fined some unidentified trafficking victims, including some adult and child sex trafficking victims. Police did not always recognize child sex trafficking victims as such and sometimes removed girls from trafficking situations, sent them home, and did not refer them to services or file criminal charges against the buyer or trafficker. While a committee directed the MHA to provide shelter to foreign victims of trafficking, the government did not have legal alternatives to the deportation of foreign victims. The government did not report whether officials screened for trafficking among foreign nationals prior to deportation.
Victims could obtain restitution from traffickers through criminal proceedings. The government could also provide back wages from an HTTCA rehabilitation fund if the government was unable to collect fines imposed on traffickers. The government seldom initiated victim compensation and few victims knew about the HTTCA fund’s existence. As in prior reporting periods, the government did not report if any courts ordered restitution or if any victims received compensation from the HTTCA fund. DoFE settled most labor complaints of migrant workers administratively and did not refer violators to the FET for civil penalties nor to police for criminal investigation. Many labor trafficking victims preferred to submit claims for compensation through the 2007 FEA in lieu of lengthy criminal prosecutions under the HTTCA to avoid the stigma associated with trafficking, the significantly higher potential for compensation through the 2007 FEA than HTTCA, and the lack of time and funding to access the centralized institutions charged with providing redress.
The 2007 FEA required the government to appoint labor attachés in countries with more than 5,000 registered Nepali migrant workers to address claims of abuse or exploitation, and facilitate worker repatriation. The government continued to have seven labor attachés and five labor counselors deployed in eight countries. Although MoLESS assigned labor attachés and counselors to diplomatic missions with a high volume of migrant workers, limited resources prevented assigning attachés to all required countries. While some embassies could provide temporary shelter and repatriate trafficking victims, officials acknowledged inadequate staffing, coordination, and resources to meet the high demand for services created delays in assistance, most shelters provided space only for women, and the quality of the government-run shelters abroad was inadequate. Nepali embassies in most Gulf countries, Malaysia, and South Korea could each provide emergency shelter for approximately 25 female migrant workers, including trafficking victims, although host country policies often restricted missions from independently managing shelters and most embassies lacked shelters for migrant workers. Embassies did not report the number of migrant workers assisted.
The FEB, which is responsible for protecting migrant workers and maintains a welfare fund to support labor migrants registered with the DoFE, collected fees from registered migrant workers prior to departure for a welfare fund to provide repatriation and one year of financial support to families of injured or deceased workers, which could include trafficking victims. During the fiscal year, the fund repatriated 215 migrant workers compared with 551 in the previous year. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims among those repatriated or initiating any criminal investigations. Additionally, the government repatriated 213 bodies of Nepalis who had died while employed abroad, compared with repatriation of 892 bodies the previous year. Although the government medically certified migrants prior to departure, many overseas deaths likely resulted from extreme working conditions such as severe weather exposure leading to organ failure. MoWCSC funded some Nepali embassies, including the embassy in Oman, to repatriate Nepali trafficking victims. Although there is no welfare fund to repatriate unregistered workers, FEB could repatriate undocumented migrants, including trafficking victims, by requesting funds through the finance ministry on an ad hoc basis, or referring victims to the non-resident Nepali association, but it could not provide any other financial support or services. Civil society organizations bore the primary cost of repatriating Nepali trafficking victims from India where repatriation could take up to two years due to the lack of formal repatriation procedures between countries. Nepal lacked formal agreements with neighboring countries to repatriate trafficking victims, often resulting in excessively long repatriation processes. DoFE maintained an online portal that allowed migrant workers, or someone on the worker’s behalf, to file a request for repatriation assistance. Since the site’s introduction, DoFE has received increasing requests for repatriation assistance, but the government did not report the percentage of successful repatriations.