By Rupa Rai
Economic woes are boosting trafficking of human beings in Nepal. Rising inflation, low economic growth and conflict within political parties has led to an increase in the number of women, boys and girls and men being trafficked for multiple forms of exploitation.
While there is no data on internal trafficking occurring within Nepal, there is also a lack of reliable data on the serious cross-border situation. Different reports state that 5,000-7,000 are trafficked annually outside Nepal.
Analyzing human trafficking in Nepal is difficult as there is a lack of common agreement as to what constitutes trafficking. While a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation trafficking convention narrowly defines trafficking as the “moving, selling or buying of women and children for prostitution,” the UN Trafficking Protocol describes trafficking in persons to mean exploitation or the prostitution of others, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery and servitude. The significance of the latter definition is that it applies to all persons and more applicable to the present-day Nepal and South Asian contexts where women, girls, boys, and men are being trafficked in relation to multiple forms of exploitation.
Many reports from studies on trafficking are not directly comparable because of use varying units of analysis. So estimates of the number of persons trafficked are extremely wide and, at times, inconsistent. For Nepal and other South Asian countries, many estimates are specific to the years 1990-2000 and are now outdated. Hence, any estimates concerning the magnitude of human trafficking in Nepal should be interpreted with considerable caution.
Much research is only specific to the cross-border trafficking of women and/or children for commercial sexual exploitation. Moreover, while there is relatively sound information on trafficking prone areas and routes, which often follow legitimate migration routes, there is comparatively less research on trafficked persons or on traffickers.
Historically in Nepal and some Asian countries trafficking of women — specially girl children for commercial sexual exploitation was practiced and even tolerated. With changing political, economic, and social contexts, trafficking patterns have also changed. More recently, trafficking is becoming an increasingly multi lateral cross-border phenomenon associated with organized criminal groups and fuelled by poverty, unemployment, out migration, modernization, and urbanization.
Today, Nepal is primarily a source country for children, women and men who are trafficked to other South Asian countries (mainly India and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan), the Asia-Pacific region (Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea), Middle Eastern countries (Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE), the Americas and Europe. Most Nepalese persons are trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation including brothel and non-brothel sex work in India and within Nepal. People are also trafficked for various other purposes including forced marriage and involuntary servitude as domestic servants, circus entertainers, factory workers, agricultural laborers, construction workers, mining workers, drug traffickers, bonded laborers, and beggars, as well as for the purposes of illegal adoption and organ removal.
Of Nepal’s 75 districts, the government officially recognizes at least 26 districts as trafficking prone areas. Estimates suggest that 100,000 to 300,000 girls and women have been trafficked from Nepal to other destinations. Annually, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 girls and women are trafficked across Nepal’s borders — mainly to India for commercial sexual exploitation.
The number of persons who are internally trafficked is unknown. With some 40,000 girls and women ages 12 to 30 work in 1,200 cabin and dance restaurants and massage parlors in Kathmandu alone. Some of these are sexually exploited and/or trafficked.
According to local NGO estimates, each year at least 7,500 children are trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation and 20,000 to 25,000 girls become involuntary domestic workers. Official data on missing women in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that an average of nearly 500 women are reported missing each year.
According to a data that considers caste and ethnic lines, upto 80 percent of girls and young women who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation come from Dalit, Janajati, and Madheshi families. Trafficking survivors overwhelmingly (94 percent) are young between 11 to 25 years of age. According to official police data, most (70 to 90 percent) trafficking survivors known to police are women and girls. However, the dynamics of human trafficking are changing and an increasing number of men and boys are being cross-border trafficked to India and other destinations for various purposes, including exploitive labor.
In the context of Nepalese culture, the trauma is often compounded by societal rejection upon their rescue or return from sex slavery.
Awareness programs can save many girls. For example Caritas Nepal is doing Radio programs, street dramas and showing documentaries. Caritas has used days of prayer, approached leaders of various religions and celebrated days like International Women’s Day by highlighting the plight of trafficked women.
In Nepal a girl was recently saved from being trafficked. A carpet factory weaver, who had attended a Caritas-led awareness training on trafficking found her younger sister missing in southern Kathmandu. The woman was able to react fast and inform a women’s group who found the girl not very far from the Indian border. The trafficker is now in jail.
In order to promote gender equality and prevent trafficking, Caritas Nepal is identifying new vulnerable communities and families; forming networks and communication centers; forming support groups, sharing successful methods, along with constant evaluation.
Our radio programs providing awareness on trafficking is broadcast through Radio Nepal -– the media that reaches the widest audience. Just in the last year we have provided awareness programs to carpet factory workers, students and even teachers. Hundreds have viewed our street dramas. A manual for Advocacy on Prevention of Human Trafficking was published by Caritas last year and is still being distributed to NGOs. Caritas continues to train and assist families in issues regarding safe migration and trafficking.
Rupa Rai is Head of Caritas Nepal’s Gender Development Desk. She was also coordinator of Caritas Pan-Asian Anti-Trafficking Program (2008-2010).