Asia shares
world-wide shame

Nepal's apathy boosts trafficking networks' tenacity
Rampant poverty, unemployment, and increased connectivity between India and Nepal behind trafficking, forced labor, say experts
Nepal's apathy boosts trafficking networks' tenacity

Some 35 Nepali workers pose for a photo with their rescuers in Srinagar in India after being rescued on May 8 from a forced labor camp. (Photo supplied)

Published: May 29, 2024 03:12 AM GMT
Updated: May 31, 2024 05:42 AM GMT

Until earlier this month, Ranjit Chaudhary had little hope of returning home alive from India’s northernmost Jammu-Kashmir area.

The 38-year-old man from Nepal lived in captivity for more than three months in the basement of an old house in Kralpora, a remote village some 90 kilometers from Srinagar city.

“I am happy to be back with my family,” he said while holding back tears after reuniting with his family in Laxminiya, a village in south-eastern Nepal on May 16. 

He was one of 35 men, aged between 15 and 44, rescued from forced labor.

Chaudhary and some 40 other people were hired from Nepal villages to work on a canal construction project in Jammu, promising high pay and perks such as food and accommodation. 

An estimated 35,000 Nepali people are trafficked into India annually, and in 2022, some 15,000 of them were girls aged between 6 and 16 years, according to a report from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission.

Rampant poverty and unemployment in Nepali villages, open borders, increased connectivity between India and Nepal, and the affinity of their cultures tempt people to become trapped in the network of traffickers, experts say.

For example, Chaudhary and his companions are daily-wage laborers belonging to economically poor and socially deprived Dalit families in Dhanusha district in southeastern Nepal, and attractive offers tempted them.

Chaudhary’s family of four young children and his wife depend on his income to survive. His wife also occasionally works odd jobs as a daily laborer to support the family.

The income squeeze has forced Chaudhary to take loans to support the family. His experience at the hands of the traffickers and the forced labor have traumatized the family, but Chaudhary is desperate to find another job.

For socially and economically poor Dalit people like Chaudhary, Nepal's  villages offer no employment opportunities other than work as casual laborers and farmhands.

Social workers say work is seasonal on farmland, and the lack of jobs for long periods makes them easily susceptible to being lured by offers from trafficking networks.

Some 35 Nepali men who were rescued from a camp for forced laborers in India's Jammu area on May 16 pose for a photograph with some of the officials of the agency that helped get their freedom.

Inhuman treatment

Two contractors from India's Bihar state, which borders Nepal, promised Chaudhary and others 1,100 Nepali rupees (US$8.7) for six hours of work daily, nearly double the wage they earned in their village.

They were also promised free housing and food. Also, to win their trust, the traffickers offered each worker 7,000 rupees.

“The offer was tempting as there were no jobs in the villages. I planned to work for a month and come back with money to pay off some of my debts,” said Chaudhary, who used to earn some 600 rupees as a daily wage laborer in his village.

Chaudhary said they were forced to work as bonded laborers on multiple construction projects for up to 16 hours and held in captivity without any payment or proper food and water.

The workers were locked inside a room except during working hours between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and forced to sleep, eat, and urinate on the floor of the room. Their phones, IDs, and cash were confiscated and they were kept under surveillance around the clock, Chaudhary claims.

“My back was beaten black and blue with water pipes when I asked for my wages,” Chaudhary said at an event organized in Sarlahi district to welcome the rescued Nepali workers home.

Chaudhary and 35 other Nepali workers were rescued on May 8, three months after they left their village. The rescue operation was initiated after two in the group escaped and returned home in April to tell their harrowing stories.

Indian police in Srinagar conducted the rescue operation in collaboration with social activist Saroj Raya and a voluntary organization named KIN India, as well as two other agencies that work to end human trafficking between India and Nepal.

KIN India, a New Delhi-based agency, worked with the Good Shepherd International Foundation of Nepal and Opportunity Village Nepal.

Some of the Nepali men rescued from a camp for forced laborers in India's Jammu area on May 16 tell their story to an official of the agency that helped win back their freedom.

Millions seek employment

The International Organization of Migration in 2019 estimated that some 4 million Nepalis, more than 13 percent of the nation’s 30 million population, live and work in India at any given time.

India continues to remain the most popular trafficking transit and destination for Nepalis, and victims are mostly pressed into forced labor and sex slavery, according to the State of Migration Report 2023 published by the Center for the Study of Labor and Mobility in Nepal.

Nearly 1.5 million Nepalis are at risk from various forms of human trafficking, according to a 2019 report by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. Each year, nearly 1,000 Nepali women and girls are rescued from India.

The majority of them work in the informal sector as farmhands, housemaids, security guards, or in factories, at construction sites, or wayside restaurants, making them vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation, said Nabin Joshi, KIN India director.

KIN India has been partnering with the Good Shepherd International Foundation, a non-profit organization run by nuns of the Good Shepherd congregation, which works to protect vulnerable women and children from being trafficked into India and other countries via India.

The failure of the government’s administrative apparatus remains the primary reason for widespread human trafficking in Nepal, says Ganesh Gurung, a labor migration expert.

“India-bound workers continue to be excluded from government plans and policies that are implemented to protect migrants [going elsewhere] and address their concerns,” said Gurung, who contributed toward the labor migration policy of Nepal.

With India and Nepal allowing free movement of people without any travel documents, Nepalis do not need permits to work in India, making trafficking easier, Gurung told UCA News.

Officials of the agencies that rescued some Nepali men who were rescued from a camp for forced laborers in India's Jammu area on May 16 pose for a photograph. Squatting behind them are the rescued men.

'State apathy helps trafficking'

He said the Nepal government’s Department of Foreign Employment does not have a system for collecting data on people migrating to work, whether trafficked or otherwise.

The government also needs to work to increase employment opportunities for its citizens to help people like Chaudhary live in their home country with their families.

Good Shepherd Sister Taskila Nicholas, the country representative of the nuns’ organization that worked with two other agencies in the rescue mission, said, “Men from poor and marginalized communities are vulnerable to being trafficked for forced labor.”

“Young girls, women, and children are highly vulnerable to trafficking from Nepal to India. They are forced to work as forced laborers and sex workers,” said Sister Nicholas, whose agency focuses on rescuing trafficked women.

Since 2019, the Good Shepherd nun’s organization, in partnership with Opportunity Village Nepal, has been implementing a “cross-border anti-human trafficking project” to rescue trafficked Nepali women and girls to India.

They also help rehabilitate and reintegrate those rescued and strengthen surveillance mechanisms in border areas through Indo-Nepal cross-border initiatives.

Nepal's lack of government initiatives has forced Chaudhary to plan to migrate to Malaysia as a casual worker a fortnight after being rescued from India.

He said he had “no option” other than opting for a life in Malaysia or a country in the Persian Gulf as he had “to take care of my family.”

Chaudhary said he was aware of the “challenges of working as a low-paying migrant worker,” but he is in “dire need of money” to support his family like millions of poor Nepali men.

“I will take out some loans and try to go to Malaysia, where my uncle works. I hope life treats me well this time,” he said.

Sister Nicolas said it was “important that governments ensure sustainable rehabilitation and reintegration of the survivors by involving them in various government employment schemes and income generation opportunities.”

“We will be in touch with the government bodies and the survivors to provide needed support from our side in this regard,” said the Catholic nun.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
UCA News