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Human trafficking on the rise

Reported cases up by 150 percent as compared to last year

Kathmandu, September 25, 2016: After the massive 2015 earthquake, various reports confirm that human trafficking rate has gone up. As per the data provided by Nepal Police Headquarters, human trafficking in the first month of this fiscal (mid-July to mid-August) was up by 150 per cent when compared to the same month of fiscal year 2015-16. In the fiscal year 2015-16, a total of 212 cases were reported which was 16 per cent higher when compared to the fiscal year 2014-15 that reported 181 cases. However, due to the lack of a systematic and centralised counter-trafficking database system in Nepal, the data presented cannot be termed as exact data.

Unlike other criminal acts, human trafficking faces technical difficulties. To determine if a crime has been committed, it needs victims to give witnesses. This is the main reason why stakeholders stated that it is difficult to ascertain the real scenario of human trafficking. Experiences from the 2010 Haiti earthquake also showed that vulnerability of trafficking of children and women is much higher after a disaster. According to a recent report from the National Human Rights Commission ‘Trafficking in Persons’, vulnerability to human trafficking has increased by 15 to 20 per cent for women and children.

Lack of data

“There is no doubt that women and children are the most vulnerable groups for human trafficking after the earthquake owing to a drastic change in livelihood and poverty,” said Kamal Thapa Kshetri, Human Rights Officer at National Human Right Commission Office of the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons (NHRC-OSRT). Citing that human trafficking has increased, he said, “However, it is hard to say at what rate human trafficking is increasing. The problem of database is not only in Nepal but exists worldwide.” According to him, there lacks a central data system and the data varies according to organisations.

Talking about the pattern of human trafficking and destinations, Kshetri said, “Of late human trafficking of women and children from Nepal is growing to South Asian, middle east and African countries also besides India.” According to him, women were even rescued from Sri Lanka, Kenya and Tanzania, among others.

The latest US State Department 2016 Trafficking in Persons report stated that Nepal is a major source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. It also said that Nepali men women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in Nepal, India, the Middle East, Asia, United States and Sub Saharan Africa in construction, mines, factories, domestic work, begging and the adult entertainment industry.

Till date, no reliable information has been generated on the magnitude of trafficking even after the earthquake. The study on child trafficking conducted by ILO in 2001 estimated that 12,000 children are trafficked each year from Nepal. As very few cases are reported in Nepal, data on women and children who are victims of trafficking are limited and estimates are highly varied. “Districts of origin, poverty,
unemployment, gender, age group, education, ethnicity and caste system are affecting factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking,” said Kshetri, adding, “These are the reason why women are mostly trafficked and missing children are reported high.” He further elaborated that the earthquake has invited sudden change in livelihood of the women and children resulting vulnerable situation.

Problem galore

According to UNICEF, lack of reliable data regarding trafficking, caste and ethnicity-based discrimination, limited financial resources, insufficient labour market regulation and monitoring, absence of programmes to promote safe, legal migration and provision of services to people who wish to seek work legally within a country are contributing factors for trafficking. It is a universal truth that after disaster or conflicts people became so vulnerable that they can be easily convinced and trafficked to metropolitan cities or migration for better livelihood.

“After a big crisis, people are vulnerable and desperate for survival support. And in this most vulnerable time, anyone can take advantage,” said Reseacher for women and conflict issues Shiva K Dhungana. Citing that due to the government’s negligence human trafficking has increased, he said, “The earthquake hit while the country was reeling under political crisis or in political transition. The government had not been able to develop preparedness for such a sensitive issue like human trafficking.” He blames the government for the sad situation and said, “The government is too busy with political agenda that so reconstruction and rehabilitation of the earthquake victims is not prioritised.”

Moreover, Dhungana said that there are still loopholes in the security system in Nepal. “Due to open border, it is easy for traffickers to cross the border. In this case, Nepal Police should be more alert and increase security checking at border areas.” He is of the opinion that trafficking cases will naturally drop if the government initiates work on reconstruction and implements plans to upgrade the life of earthquake victims.

Controlling mechanism

Effective law enforcement against traffickers is a major deterrent to trafficking and Nepal Police plays vital role in minimising human trafficking. The government’s preparedness and prioritising reconstruction work will create better livelihood and also decrease the vulnerability of people living in poverty after the disaster. “Nepal Police is working at optimum level to control human trafficking,” said Sarbendra Khanal, Senior Superintendent of Police at the Metropolitan Crime Division of Nepal Police. Informing that they were successful in breaking a network of human traffickers from Delhi and the US, he said, “This crackdown has been successful and surely demoralise other traffickers.” He further said, “We are aware of probable trafficking cases on the rise, we have increased surveillance, vigilance and even started stringent action in border areas, major bus parks, check points and airports.”

For easy access to police, Nepal Police also operates a victim support unit hotline number 1177 for the public who can complain about any suspicious activities. Moreover, it has also made the phone number 4269741 available for victims to call from abroad. “Till now we have rescued 600 women from different countries and we are doing our best to crack down on human trafficking,” he added.

Khanal does not agree with how the international media, INGOs and NGOs create a picture of human trafficking issues. Stating that human trafficking issues are different from other crimes, he said, “In such case, we need victims to come forward and give witness how they were taken. Otherwise, police can’t intervene on migrating workers as it falls on their right to travel freely for better economic opportunities abroad,” he added.

He is of the opinion that public awareness is vital to minimise human trafficking. According to him, Kavre, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, Dhading are the most vulnerable districts for human trafficking as these are highly affected districts after the earthquake.

“It is true that the number of cases of human trafficking reported is increasing more than before especially from the metros,” said Madhav Prasad Joshi, Spokesperson of Nepal Police Headquarters. Admitting that there are still loopholes in the security system, he said, “However, Nepal Police is not the only one responsible for the control mechanism. It takes equal effort and fulfilling of responsibilities by the government, NGOs, INGOs and citizens.”

According to him, there is a lack of awareness among people and they themselves consciously or unconsciously get trafficked lying to police and not giving the right information when police intervene. Nepal Police reported that 1,851 people (413 boys, 437 girls, 825 women and 176 men) were intercepted from potential trafficking between April 2015 to March 2016.

By Sujata Awale