South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Subash Shiwakoti

The war against trafficking must incorporate action against poverty and marginalisation

Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery and a serious crime that results in gross abuse of the victims’ human rights. Thousands of children, women and men become victims of human traffickers each year. We have also exposed human trafficking in Nepal, and we have discovered that Nepal is used as a resource country for trade in women and children mostly for the purpose of sexual exploitation and child pornography. The national reports of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for 2008 and 2009 show that around 32,000 children and women became victims of trafficking in those two years. The report stated, “Today, trafficking is not limited just to commercial sexual exploitation but to labour exploitation, organ transplantation and entertainment (circus and dance bars) purposes.”

This trade appears to be increasing, both nationally and internationally; and it is estimated that human trafficking has become the second largest illegal business in the world after the arms trade. Several thousand illegal organ transplantations take place each year. The trade gœs from poor countries to rich countries, from poor donors to wealthy recipients. This is a disturbing trend in countries that have little respect for or understanding of human rights. The government’s goal is to combat all types of human trafficking. It has stated this goal in different national declarations and plans of the action. Nepal has made an international commitment to prevent and combat trade in human beings by ratifying different international and regional conventions especially on women and children.

Human trafficking is a global, transnational problem. It is a serious form of crime that, in many cases, is organised by international criminal networks. These activities often take place as part of other serious, organised crimes, and are characterised by the perpetrators being involved in multiple crimes, i.e., they are often involved in drug trafficking and arms dealing across national borders. There are possibilities for making substantial profits while most of the victims are in a vulnerable situation due to poverty and repression. The networks are usually based abroad, often in the victims’ home countries. Consequently, the sufferers are often scared of providing information for fear of reprisal against themselves or their families in their countries of origin.

Nepal is primarily concerned with the exploitation of women and young girls for prostitution or other sexual purposes, and our efforts will continue to target this type of human trafficking. At the same time, the government wants to focus on male victims of human trafficking in the form of forced labour and trade in human organs. These are areas to which little attention has been paid, and the government desires to intensify its efforts, especially through its work at the international level.

Child victims of human trafficking have a special need for protection and assistance, and they must be ensured appropriate follow-up. The government will, therefore, place special emphasis on efforts aimed at this group. Children under the age of 18 have special rights which are laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and associated optional protocols. The convention and the optional protocols have been incorporated into the Human Rights Act and are applicable as Nepali law. Particular attention is paid to the special situation and vulnerability of women and children. The government recognises the work that has already been initiated to combat human trafficking as accordance with international recommendations, human rights and gender equality have been the overarching principles in the government’s work plan. These principles will continue to guide further work and implementation of the different laws.

Women who are already working as prostitutes in urban centres are often recruited to work abroad, or girls are recruited directly from rural areas, often with the help of neighbours or relatives. Many women know that they are going to be made to work as labour or in slavery like situations, but are misled with respect to their working conditions. Others are tricked into leaving the country with assurances that they will be working as domestic help, dancers and waitresses. Some are tricked into marriage, and then forced into prostitution.

Women who are taken to a destination, with or without their consent, are often required to pay large sums of money for “travel expenses” and thereby become indebted to the perpetrators. This debt may be equivalent to the sum that is paid to the woman’s family, transport costs, bribes for policemen and other public servants, advance payment for the woman’s day-to-day expenses and, in some cases, the woman’s “market value”. With the help of violence and threats, the women are prevented from returning home until the debt is repaid. Their passports and other travel documents are confiscated. Since the perpetrators take their cut of the revenues to cover the alleged debt and add interest and living expenses to this debt, in practice it continues to grow, and the women are trapped in a spiral of violence and ever-increasing debt. If the woman is arrested, she is expelled and risks being sold into prostitution and forced labour again because she still owes money to the perpetrators.

The fight against trafficking in women and children requires a longterm effort, not least to reduce the underlying causes, such as poverty, conflict, inequitable social distribution and marginalisation. The government has, therefore, chosen to increase development assistance in order to strengthen the position of women and render them less vulnerable to recruitment. We must work to promote international solidarity and reduce inequalities in the world. Without close international cooperation, among other things, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, we will be powerless in this struggle. In the fight against human trafficking, there are no easy solutions. The reasons for human trafficking are complex.

The government’s goal of combating all forms of human trafficking can only be achieved through close and committed cooperation between the responsible players. At the same time, international efforts to ensure a good global framework and cooperation needs to be intensified. Strong implementation of national legal provisions on human trafficking and sensitisation of the people at the grassroots regarding trafficking laws is essential.

(The author is programme officer with the Development Project Service Centre, Nepal, which works in the field of rural development)

Source: The Kathmandu Post – 15.07.2010