Human trafficking is mainly understood as the buying and selling of people and while that is not wrong, it does not cover the entire scope of the crime. As defined by the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, human trafficking, in its entirety, includes the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or of giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation including, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The above definition makes it clear that human trafficking, a criminal industry worth US$ 32 billion, spans beyond just the illegal transport of people and includes other things often unknown to or overlooked by people. Nepal, unfortunately, is all too familiar with the problem as we are a source country. Between 5,000 and 7,000 women and girls are trafficked each year from our country for sexual exploitation. However, there are other forms of trafficking that occur in the country but we do not recognise them. One of them is trafficking for labour.
About 2.3 million Nepalis leave the country for employment in foreign countries other than India each year – a significant number of them going through local unlicensed brokers without any registration or processing. They choose brokers because they are either unaware of the legal requirements or they find the formal channels too bureaucratic, long and costly. And this leads them to an environment of exploitation and bonded labour i.e., human trafficking.
Another lesser-known form of trafficking is the trafficking of students. Just like foreign employment, Nepali youths leave in large numbers to pursue higher education in countries like India, Australia, the USA, Bangladesh and Thailand. And many do so through so-called education consultancies. Now, the job of these consultancies is to understand the students’ qualifications, choice of subjects, family and economic background and match them to a university accordingly and a majority of registered consultancies do just dutifully. But there are a few illegally operating consultancies that send the students to whichever university they get commissions from, regardless of whether it is a good fit for the students or not. The students and their family members are kept completely in the dark and are not given a chance to investigate. On top of that, these consultancies charge hefty sums of money in the name of application and processing fees. And when the students finally reach the university, they find that they have been enrolled in a different subject than the one they had initially applied for and/or the costs of studying are higher than what they can afford.
These are only but a few forms of unrecognised trafficking that thousands of Nepalis fall prey to every year. To stop this, the government must update the laws to recognise any activity that transports a person by any illegal means that results in exploitation as human trafficking. Our authorities, mainly the police, must also be sensitised to the different dimensions of trafficking. But ultimately, the onus is on us to be alert and not fall prey to criminals. We must not let lofty promises blind us and should conduct thorough investigations on the people and organisations we are using to go abroad. Human trafficking is a serious and inexcusable crime and it is high time that the legal and social apparatus of Nepal started taking notice and dealing with this burning problem.