Human trafficking in Nepal

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Human trafficking in Nepal is a serious concern. Nepal is mainly a source country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.[1] The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) compiled by the US State Department rates Nepal as Tier 2, the explanation of which is “the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.” [1]

Overview of human trafficking[edit]

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as "the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation." [2] All countries are affected as source or destination countries or a combination of both, although developing countries tend to be source countries for developed nations.[2] According to a conservative estimate by the International Labor Organization, around 2.4 million people—overwhelmingly women and girls—are currently in forced labor as a result of trafficking, creating a 32 billion USD industry worldwide. Around 1.2 million victims of trafficking are minors: around 43% are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation while 32% are for involuntary servitude, and 25% for a mixture of both .[3]

Nepali victims are trafficked within Nepal, the Middle East, and even Europe plus other areas such as Malaysia and forced to become prostitutes, domestic servants, beggars, factory workers, mine workers, circus performers, child soldiers, and others.[1] [2][4] Sex trafficking is particularly rampant within Nepal and to India, with as many as 5,000-10,000 women and girls trafficked to India alone each year.[5][6]


Within Nepal[edit]

Trafficking victims often are taken to locations within Nepal, often from rural areas to the urban centers. Mainly young girls and women are trafficked for sexual exploitation in places such as cabin/dance restaurants, massage parlors, and other places within tourism sector.[4] However, these spaces also host many women who entered sex work voluntarily, and those who might have entered voluntarily but were later not allowed to leave and end up in slave-like conditions.[7] Within Nepal, labor trafficking is also common: victims often end up in carpet and garment factories, embroidering sweatshops, brick-kilns, and others.[1]

Cross-border to India[edit]

The trafficking of girls from Nepal into India for forced prostitution is perhaps one of the busiest slave trafficking routes anywhere in the world, with estimated 5,000-10,000 Nepali women and girls trafficked to India each year.[6][8] An estimated 100,000-200,000 Nepali trafficked persons are in India.[9] Nepali girls are especially desirable as prostitutes in India because they are considered more attractive due to their lighter skin color, and because Nepali virgins are believed to be able to cure AIDS.[10] Victims are also trafficked for labor in circuses, agriculture, and other manufacturing sectors.[1] The 1850 kilometers of open, porous border between Nepal and India make trafficking simple and difficult to catch.[7] In addition, there is no immigration control for Nepalese migrating to India or Indians coming in Nepal under the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty between India and Nepal.[4][9] In addition to being a destination, India is also a transit country for Nepalese and Bangladeshi women trafficked to Pakistan, Western Asia, and the Middle East and for women trafficked from the Russian Federation to Thailand.[11]

Cross-border (excluding India)[edit]

Victims, especially girls and women, are trafficked to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Russia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states.[1][12] Experts believe China is also becoming an emerging hub for Nepali victims.[1] Many victims who end up overseas are passed through India first before their final destinations.[11] For non-India foreign destinations, the victims are most commonly subjected to sex trafficking, especially to non-brothels. Also widespread is labor exploitation of victims in unorganized, informal sectors in Gulf states, such as domestic servitude.[4]



The majority of trafficking victims are women and girls, who are especially vulnerable due to limited economic opportunities, illiteracy or low education, and low socioeconomic and cultural status.[13] Victims come from all areas of Nepal, but most targeted are those in traditionally disadvantaged, marginalized groups such as the Dalit caste (untouchables) and ethnic monorities ("janajati", indigenous peoples).[1][4] However, victimization is spreading to advantaged groups and upper caste women as well.[1] The Nepal Human Development Report (2004) estimates approximately 20% who are trafficked to India and other countries in Asia are under the age of 16.[14]

Most victims were lured with promises of better jobs in areas such as India, Dubai, or Saudi Arabia; other tactics include false marriages and proposals, force, and approaching indebted families to sell their daughters to pay their debts, sometimes under the guise of a dowry for a marriage.[4][15] The most vulnerable are women and girls who are illiterate or uneducated, involved in marginalized livelihoods, deserted by their husbands or families, victims of abuse and violence, and those from disadvantaged communities and extremely poor families.[4]

In the places of enslavement, victims are often imprisoned, followed with guards, routinely sexually and physically abused across different types of trafficking.[10][16] Victims receive little or no pay for their work, work in dangerous conditions for extremely long periods of time, and are threatened physically and psychologically.[10][16] Victims are often held in debt bondage by their captors, which means they are forced to pay off a debt for their families or transportation fee. Victims sometimes get away from their captivity through escape, rescue by police raids, or release by their captors when deemed too old to be profitable.[10][15]

Challenges after trafficking[edit]

Even if victims survive and are able to get out of trafficking, they face enormous challenges after trafficking. Because of the prolonged abuse, victims often suffer from physical and emotional trauma such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and are at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.[17] Studies show around 30-38% of sex trafficking victims are HIV positive, a significantly higher rate than non-sex worker rates and non-coerced sex workers.[18][19] In addition, since many survivors do not have the citizenship status, they have very limited options for legal recourse, and are ineligible for most government poverty reduction programs.[12] Even after being aided by NGOs, many women report continued stigma in the community and lack of opportunities for livelihood.[12]

Many have extreme difficulty reintegrating into society due to the strong stigma they face of being previous sex workers regardless of the fact they were forced into it.[15] When survivors return to home villages, they are often cast out by family members and home communities.[10] Survivors consider marriage to be the most reliable and desired social reintegration strategy; some hide their previous lives and HIV status from their new husbands.[10][12] Because of the stigma and lack of skills and education, combined with Nepal’s limited employment and livelihood opportunities for women that are considered socially acceptable, many survivors re-enter sex work.[10][12]


A 2011 report by Dr. Gilly McKenzie, of UN Organised Crime Office, states: "Traffickers often originate from the same places or localities from where girls and women are trafficked. They are both men and women, and most often they were people the victim knows such as neighbors, relatives, friends, and even parents.[7] Studies show that trafficking are conducted by networks of traffickers, with the network extending from village to working places to the destination. Traffickers have cooperations with politicians, officials, the police, customs, overseas recruiters/agents, transport agencies, adoption agencies etc.[4] Researchers believe the routes, methods and activities of trafficking are becoming increasingly more organized. Traffickers often obtain authentic legal documents for the victims they traffic, but withhold them from the victims after borders are crossed[4] Besides using false promises of well-paying employment, false love, and marriage, traffickers also play the role of “guardians” for girls and women, often under the guise of helping them seek medical treatment or guiding them to reach their husband or relatives in India."[4]

Contributing factors[edit]

Economic factors[edit]

Poverty is one of the greatest risk factors that makes victims, particularly women and girls, vulnerable: the Nepali PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers) identifies that 38% of its population live on or below the poverty line.[12] Poverty and lack of employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas, force individuals or families to migrate to more urban areas or accept distant job offers, making them more vulnerable to trafficking.[11] In addition, the rise of the carpet industry in Nepal as the greatest foreign exchange industry created a demand for cheap child labor and slave labor.[4] Studies indicated that a large number of children working in the factories were enslaved and often sexually abused; the factories then became transit centers for trafficking girls to India.[4] Furthermore, trafficking has become a low-risk and highly lucrative business, which incentivizes traffickers to recruit girls, even when they are neighbors or family members.[11]

Social and cultural factors[edit]

Historical and cultural factors feed into the current state of trafficking. The Hindu caste system does not have a prostitute caste: however, in south-west Nepal, women of the Badi caste were traditionally entertainers who offered cultural shows as well as sexual services to local kings, religious leaders and landlords.[4] Trafficker gangs capitalized on this local tradition and incorporated the Badi community into a cross-border sex trafficking ring.[20] Patriarchal social norms, values, attitudes and behaviors encourage trafficking and make women and girls vulnerable.[4] For instance, women have fewer opportunities for education, job training, and employment than men in Nepal; families value boys as assets but view girls as financial burdens because girls will eventually be married off to serve another family, and the parents have to give a dowry in addition.[7] Poor families in these situations might sell their daughters to traffickers or send them off at a young age to work and send remittances back to the family.[7] Tolerance of domestic and sexual violence create immense obstacles for victims to leave abusive circumstances or seek effective legal recourse. Furthermore, women who are divorced, abandoned, victims of rape, or sex workers face enormous levels of stigma and are ostracized by their families and communities, making them vulnerable to trafficking.[11]

2015 Quake and political crises[edit]

The April 2015 Nepal earthquake, its aftershocks have led to fears of intensified trafficking as people prey upon the millions of newly shelterless. The 2015 Nepal blockade has only heightened the sense of crisis in the country. Some showed that 461 girls as reported by Maiti Nepal, most of them were under the age of 18, were reported missing by their families after crossing into India.[21] The political impasse also impacts efforts to engage India authorities to find them.

Governmental anti-trafficking efforts[edit]


Nepal’s constitution specifically lists the right to equality and the right to freedom from exploitation. The right against exploitation specifically prohibits the trafficking of persons. Nepal also has three domestic laws in place that address girl trafficking and forced child labor, including the Labor Act of 1992, the Human Trafficking Control Act of Nepal of 1986, and the National Human Rights Commission Act of 1993.[7] The Human Trafficking Control Act of Nepal of 1986 explicitly criminalizes the selling and buying of human beings and established provisions for rehabilitation and integration for victims.[7] It defines human trafficking as anything that includes i) selling or buying of a person for any purpose; ii) forcing someone into prostitution with or without taking profit; iii) illegal dismembering of human organs and iv) engaging in prostitution.[4] Those found guilty would be sentenced to up 20 years in prison.[22] However, recruitment by deception for the purposes of bonded labor was not criminalized in this act unless it is for prostitution.[7] The act is also criticized for equating sex trafficking with sex work, and for inadequate provisions for compensation and effective protection for plaintiffs who file cases against traffickers.[4] Nepal has not adopted the international Palermo Protocol on Trafficking (2003) that offers the widely accepted working definition of trafficking as the use of force, coercion, and fraud to exploit a person for profit.[1]

Problems with enforcement[edit]

Despite efforts at legislating against trafficking, lack of enforcement remains one of the highest hurdles to combatting trafficking in Nepal.[7] First, governments and society tend to judge the woman guilty of prostitution and minimize the traffickers' role in this crime.[7] Secondly, government police officials are often corrupt; pimps maintain close relations with police and politicians in connection with their trafficking activities.[17] Thirdly, few survivors press charges, reflecting that survivors have little trust towards law enforcement mechanisms or mechanisms are ineffective to bring the survivors to report.[23]

Furthermore, intimidation and harassment of survivors and the witnesses during the case proceedings, lack of survivors' protection mechanisms and lack of confidence in prosecuting and investing among the agencies are reported as the main reasons for low registration of trafficking cases in the courts.[4] This is illustrated by the study of Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) which found that in 70% of trafficking cases, the police submit the investigation report to the Government attorney on the last day of the submission of the investigation report in court – making it delay in the investigation by the Government attorney.[4] The same study identified that 23% of reported trafficking cases of the Government attorney did not appear during the hearing. At the trial level, the cases are delayed by insufficient evidence, excessive delay in court process and non-execution of judgment. In addition, there is gross lacking of awareness on gender issues, lack of conceptual clarity on trafficking issues, lack of skilled human resources, corruption, political pressure and lack of coordination among police and Government attorney.[4] Another explanation to underreporting is that after trafficking raids in India, many women are immediately deported to their homelands before they can give evidence against traffickers.[7] Finally, Nepal’s courts also have no jurisdiction over brothel owners in India, who are one of the main drivers of trafficking.[10]

Other governmental action[edit]

In addition to legislation, the Nepali government drafted a National Plan of Action (NPA) against Trafficking in Children and Women for Sexual and Labour Exploitation in 1998 which was revised in 2001.[4] The NPA has identified eight areas of action: i) policy, research and institutional development; ii) legislation and enforcement; iii) awareness creation, advocacy, networking and social mobilization; iv) health and education; v) income and employment generation; vi) rescue and reintegration; vii) trans-border, regional and international issues and viii) monitoring and evaluation. The Ministry of Women, Children and Welfare is tasked with implementing the NPA against trafficking. It is responsible to i) formulate and implementation of plans and policies concerning women, children and social welfare; ii) coordinate and liaison with national and international organisations working in social sector; and iii) ensure protection and promotion of children and women.[4]

The Office of the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Women and Children (ONRT) was established in 2002 under the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), whose responsibility is to monitor anti-trafficking initiatives.[4] Various poverty reduction efforts were also put in place by the government in order to address one of the most fundamental causes of trafficking.[4] The government also runs shelters in coordination with NGOs.[16]

NGO anti-trafficking efforts[edit]

Various NGOs in Nepal are dedicated to combat trafficking, some of the most well-known and well-established ones include Change Nepal [1], Maiti Nepal, ABC Nepal, National Network Against Girl Trafficking (NNAGT) and Shakti Samuha. Their major areas of work include research and documentation of trafficking; advocacy and lobbying for policy reform; awareness raising in the community; establishment of helpline services; establishment and operation of community surveillance system; empowerment of community and vulnerable groups such as girls and women; legal services for survivors; facilitation of cross-border rescue, raids, and repatriation; and establishment of rehabilitation centers for rescued survivors where they can have safe shelter, receive medical and legal aid, counseling, and learn other trade skills.[24]


Despite being generally regarded as important and helpful to victims, anti-trafficking NGOs in Nepal are sometimes criticized on their ideology, methods, effectiveness, and transparency. First, despite the large number of organizations in place, most are concentrated in the Kathmandu valley and have limited reach in the rural communities where many victims and the vulnerable reside.[4] Secondly, moralistic ideology can play a large role behind the services offered to the victims, with some NGOs equating sex trafficking with sex work and migration: after brothel raids, sex workers are sometimes forcibly repatriated, even when they are willingly there.[22] Thirdly, some NGOs are accused of limiting the freedom of movement for women as many NGOs often encourage girls to stay in villages and try to restrict voluntary migration, which can be patronizing and limiting to young women’s futures.[22][25] The quality of NGO leaders, and training of counselors have also been questioned.[24] Furthermore, in researcher interviews, survivors in NGO-run shelters were highly critical of the traditional skills training that is offered to them such as sewing and garment-making, which they complain are not sufficient to support themselves in the local economy. Instead the survivors report wanting types of support that they perceive as enabling them to compete in the global market and to have sustainable livelihoods.[12]

On the organizational level, lack of communication and coordination, duplication and competition amongst NGOs which could prove to be limiting for anti-trafficking efforts. Inefficiency in the disbursement of foreign aid to combat trafficking is a major concern: as sex trafficking appeared on the international agenda, the amount of money available for interventions in Nepal increased.[24] The number of NGOs dramatically increased, but accountability and transparency are lacking: no reliable database of NGOs exists, and there is no standard way to track their activities, expenditures, or administrative costs. In the health sector alone, 82% of those NGOs registered are reportedly “inactive”.[24] In addition, many have been criticized as top-down and welfare oriented.[22]

Some even argue NGO interventions can inflict greater societal harm. For instance, over-promoting frightening stories of abduction has caused some parents to pull girls out of school for fear of kidnapping on their way to school; in addition, some migrant women lament that because of the sex trafficking awareness campaigns some Nepali associate HIV/AIDS with all migrants returning from India, increasing stigma for migrants.[24]

Remaining challenges[edit]

Many challenges remain in combatting trafficking. First, there is a dearth of quantitative data on trafficking, mostly because of its illegal and clandestine nature. Much existing information about sex trafficking in Nepal is reliant on NGO publications; there is still no centralized database system for trafficking in persons by the government or any other organization.[15] Second, there is inadequate coordination between and among actors within the country, and third, it is difficult to generate scientific data due to social sigma attached to trafficking as majority of trafficking involves for sexual exploitation.[4]

Other enduring challenges to combat trafficking are the open-border between Nepal and India, lack of enforcement of laws due to increasingly communal violence, political instability, corruption, inadequate funding and implementation of NPA against trafficking, and less priority of anti-trafficking activities on the Nepali government agenda. Socioeconomic factors such as pervasive poverty, a global economy with demand for cheap and slave labor, and lack of opportunities for Nepali locally continue to drive the cycle of vulnerability. Furthermore, elements of the greater socioeconomic and cultural climate such as gender inequality, stigma, and lack of respect for human rights, especially those of women and children, remain imposing societal obstacles toward fighting trafficking.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j US State Department (2011). Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 Country Narratives -- Countries N Through Z. Retrieved March 5, 2012, from
  2. ^ a b c UNODC (2012). Human Trafficking FAQs. Retrieved March 26, 2012, from
  3. ^ ILO Trafficking in persons (2009). Retrieved February 20, 2012, from english/protection/migrant/areas/trafficking.htm
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Subedi, G. (2009). TRAFFICKING IN GIRLS AND WOMEN IN NEPAL FOR COMMERCIAL SEXUAL EXPLOITATION: EMERGING CONCERNS AND GAPS. Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies, 16(1/2), 121–146.
  5. ^ Poudel, P & Carryer, J. (2000) Girl-trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and the position of women in Nepal. Gender & Development, 8(2), 74-79. doi:10.1080/741923626
  6. ^ a b Koirala A, Banskota HK, Khadka BR: Cross border interception – A strategy of prevention of trafficking women from Nepal. Int Conf AIDS :15. 2004, Jul 11–16
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Deane, T. (2010). Cross-Border Trafficking in Nepal and India-Violating Women’s Rights. Human Rights Review, 11(4), 491–513. doi:10.1007/s12142-010-0162-y
  8. ^ Thapa, G. (1997). Women trafficking: better policing measures needed, the Rising Nepal, 15 July, Gorkhapatra Corporation Publication, Nepal. In Girl-trafficking, HIV/AIDS, and the position of women in Nepal, 2000. Gender and Development, 8(2), 74-79.
  9. ^ a b Mukherji KK, Muherjee S. (2007): Girls and women in prostitution in India Department of Women and Child Development, New Delhi, India.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Jones, C. (2010). Nepal’s “Cabin Restaurants.” Ms., 20(4), 23.
  11. ^ a b c d e Joffres, C., Mills, E., Joffres, M., Khanna, T., Walia, H., & Grund, D. (2008). Sexual slavery without borders: trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India. International Journal for Equity in Health, 7, 1–11. doi:10.1186/1475-9276-7-22
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Richardson, Diane; Poudel, Meena; Laurie, Nina (June 2009). "Sexual trafficking in Nepal: constructing citizenship and livelihoods" [Tráfico sexual en Nepal: la construcción de ciudadanía y de medios de vida]. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography (Taylor and Francis) 16 (3): 259–278. doi:10.1080/09663690902836300. 
  13. ^ Aengst, J. (2001). Girl Trafficking in Nepal. Human Rights Advocacy Clinic.
  14. ^ UNDP (2004). Nepal Human Development Report. Retrieved March 5, 2012, from
  15. ^ a b c d Simkhada, P. (2008). Life Histories and Survival Strategies Amongst Sexually Trafficked Girls in Nepal. Children & Society, 22(3), 235–248. doi:10.1111/j.1099-0860.2008.00154.x Smith, H. M., & Smith, C. A. (2008). Human Trafficking: The Unintended Effects of United Nations Intervention. Conference Papers -- Western Political Science Association, 1–41.
  16. ^ a b c UNODC (2009). Report On Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form Of Slavery at http://
  17. ^ a b KantJha, C., & Madison, J. (2011). Antecedent and Sequalae Issues of Nepalese Women Trafficked into Prostitution. Journal of International Women’s Studies, 12(1), 79–90.
  18. ^ Silverman, J. G. D. (2007). HIV Prevalence and Predictors of Infection in Sex-Trafficked Nepalese Girls and Women. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 298 (5), 536.
  19. ^ Tsutsumi, A., Izutsu T., Poudyal AK, Kato S., & Marui E. (2008). Mental health of female survivors of human trafficking in Nepal. Social Science & Medicine, 66, 1841–1847. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.12.025
  20. ^ Richardson, D., Poudel, M., & Laurie, N. (2009). Sexual trafficking in Nepal: constructing citizenship and livelihoods. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 16(3), 259–278. doi:10.1080/09663690902836300
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c d Dhungana, S. K. (2006). Anti-trafficking challenges in Nepal. Forced Migration Review,(25), 21–22.
  23. ^ Malla-Pradhan, S. (2006). National Laws, International and Regional Legal Framework against Trafficking, in Judges Workshops on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children. Kathmandu: National Judicial Academy, Nepal.
  24. ^ a b c d e Kaufman, M. R., & Crawford, M. (2011). Research and Activism Review: Sex Trafficking in Nepal: A Review of Intervention and Prevention Programs. Violence Against Women, 17 (5), 651–665. doi:10.1177/1077801211407431
  25. ^ Worthen, M. (2011). Sex Trafficking or Sex Work? Conceptions of Trafficking Among Anti- Trafficking Organizations in Nepal. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 30(3), 87.

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