As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nepal, and traffickers exploit Nepali victims abroad. Nepal is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. In 2019, the National Human Rights Commission estimated that 1.5 million Nepalis are vulnerable to human trafficking. Sex traffickers exploit Nepali women and girls in Nepal, India, the Middle East, Malaysia, and – to a lesser extent – other Asian countries and Sub-Saharan Africa. Traffickers use Nepal’s open border with India to transport Nepali women and children to India for sex trafficking. Unregistered migrants – including the large number of Nepalis who travel via the open border with India en route to third country destinations and those who rely on unregistered recruiting agents – are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Traffickers continue to target young, poorly educated people from traditionally marginalized castes and ethnic minority communities with limited economic opportunities and increasingly utilize social media and mobile technologies to lure their victims. Civil society organizations noted the economic impact of the pandemic increased vulnerability among at-risk groups such as day laborers, AES employees, women, and children. Many Nepalis whose homes or livelihood were destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes – especially women and children – remain vulnerable to trafficking.
Labor traffickers exploit Nepali men, women, and children in Nepal, India, the Middle East, and East Asia in construction, factories, mines, domestic work, begging, and the adult entertainment industry. The government estimates approximately 1.5 million Nepalis work in the Middle East, with the vast majority of men in construction in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. Nepalis work under oppressive conditions, which include forced labor, and continuing reports indicate employers retain their passports and sometimes do not pay them for months at a time. Foreign employment is often regarded as a respectable way to earn money to support families, but many migrant workers are not well-informed about their rights or applicable laws. Due to the government’s restrictions on female domestic workers to Gulf countries, many Nepali domestic workers in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia do not have valid work permits and migrate through irregular channels, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. Traffickers lure women with the promise of work as domestic servants or in the entertainment sector in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Malaysia. Labor traffickers exploit Nepali men, women, and children in East Asia, including in Japan, Malaysia, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and in Europe, including Portugal, on farms and in construction, factories, mines, begging, and the adult entertainment industry. Trafficking of unemployed residents in districts of the northern Nepal-PRC border for manual labor and commercial sex was prevalent prior to the border closure due to the pandemic. Traffickers bring Nepali victims to European countries and Australia on tourist, student, marriage, and work visas. An international organization reported a rise in Nepalis using tourist visas for foreign employment due to pandemic restrictions and the temporary suspension of work visas in destination countries.
Some recruitment agencies and agents engage in fraudulent recruitment practices and impose high fees to facilitate forced labor. Migrant workers reported that recruitment agencies sometimes provided inaccurate information about the nature and conditions of work abroad, and migrants often discovered they were required to work in jobs that differed from what they had been promised. Traffickers target unregistered migrants, including the large number of young Nepali women who transit India or men and women who rely on unregistered recruitment agents. Some Nepali women who agree to arranged marriages – through Nepali companies – to men in the PRC and South Korea are forced into domestic servitude. Traffickers subject some migrants who transit Nepal en route to the Middle East to human trafficking, including Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans who use falsified Nepali travel documents. Some government officials allegedly accept bribes to include false information in Nepali identity documents or provide fraudulent documents to prospective labor migrants, which allows recruiters to evade recruitment regulations. The lack of a birth registration system and database in Nepal further contributed to the production of fraudulent identification documents. Traffickers reportedly take advantage of more relaxed pre-departure screenings at Kolkata and Chennai airports or bribe Indian officials in New Delhi and Mumbai to fly Nepali migrant workers to third countries without proper documentation, which increases the workers’ vulnerability to trafficking. Labor traffickers also transport Nepali victims through Sri Lanka and Burma en route to destination countries. Traffickers increasingly used social media and mobile technologies to lure and deceive victims during the government’s pandemic-related lockdown.
Within Nepal, forced labor, including through debt-based bondage, of adults and children exists in agriculture, brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, and domestic work. For example, traffickers use debt to coerce a community of landless Dalit known as Haruwa-Charuwa into forced labor in the agricultural sector in certain districts of the eastern Terai region of Nepal. Agricultural bonded labor in Nepal has historically affected the Haruwa-Charuwa, the Haliya, and the Kamaiya communities disproportionally. High-interest loans, landlessness, discrimination, limited livelihood opportunities, and inadequate government policies contribute to intergenerational bonded labor. Households frequently take on high-interest loans for healthcare expenses, funeral costs, and other necessities while earning low wages, resulting in debts passed from one generation to the next. A 2021 study estimated that 1.1 million children are engaged in child labor – compared to 1.6 million children in 2008 – with 87 percent of cases occurring in the agriculture sector. In addition, approximately 74 percent of children engaged in the informal sector worked in hazardous conditions. A government study documented more than 61,000 Nepalis – including approximately 10,000 children – in forced labor over the past five years, especially in agriculture, forestry, and construction. NGOs continued to report some children worked in brick kilns, including carrying loads, preparing bricks, and performing other tasks at kilns for extended periods. A 2021 international organization report estimated 17,000 children worked in brick kilns. Traffickers subject Nepali and Indian children to forced labor in domestic work, brick kilns, the embroidered textile (zari) industry, as well as in carpet factories and stone quarrying. According to the government’s 2017-2018 labor survey, traffickers force children younger than 15 into labor in agriculture, forestry, and construction. Some Nepali brick kilns employ Indian migrant laborers, including children, who take out large advances that require them to work for subsequent seasons. Traffickers exploit debts to compel adults and children into labor in carpet factories. Parents sometimes force their children to work in carpet factories to repay family debts. Some Nepali parents give their children to brokers, who promise education or work opportunities but instead take them to frequently unregistered children’s homes and force them to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers, and, where some force children into manual labor or begging, force them to entertain visitors for donations and sexually abuse them. International organizations and NGOs estimated that 80 to 85 percent of children in “children’s homes” and orphanages had at least one living parent at home. Recruitment agents promise Bangladeshi workers well-paying jobs in Nepali carpet factories but exploit them, including by obtaining tourist visas for them instead of work visas and paying less than the agreed wages. Traffickers use children to transport drugs across the Indian-Nepali border.
Traffickers subject Nepali girls, boys, and transgender persons to sex trafficking in Nepal on the streets and in the AES, including dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin “restaurants,” a type of brothel. A study focused on the Kathmandu Valley determined approximately 17 percent of workers in the AES are minors and 62 percent of adult women in the AES had commenced work while a minor, including as young as 7 years old. Many women reported a family or friend had connected them to the establishment, where they voluntarily agreed to waitress-like positions. Their employers then exploited them in forced labor or sex trafficking. The study estimated nearly 30 percent of all minor workers in AES establishments are victims of forced labor, usually as restaurant staff, and employers later subject many to sex trafficking. Police report an increasing trend of AES businesses recruiting Nepali female employees for work abroad in the same sector, which increases vulnerability to sex trafficking. NGOs alleged some police and political party leaders are complicit in sex trafficking because of their financial involvement in the AES. Only about 25 percent of the adult entertainment venues in Kathmandu and other major cities were operational in 2021 due to the government’s prohibitory orders and social distancing. NGOs reported that pandemic-related closures increased strain on individuals working in the AES, and some women were forced into sex trafficking. NGOs reported that businesses increasingly moved into residential and underground areas. A study on commercial sexual exploitation of children found that children living on the street were highly vulnerable to trafficking. Researchers estimated that there are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation outside the adult entertainment sector. NGOs reported girls in early and forced marriages, especially in the Terai region among Dalit and Madhesi communities, were vulnerable to sex traffickers.
Under false promises of education and work opportunities, some Nepali parents give their children to brokers who instead take them to frequently unregistered children’s homes and force them to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers. The government instructed childcare homes to return children to their families prior to the government’s pandemic-related lockdown; approximately 1,500 children were reunited with their families or returned home in 2020. However, NGOs estimate more than 11,000 children remain in registered children’s homes and “orphanages,” and international organizations and NGOs approximate 80 to 85 percent have at least one living parent. Seventy-five percent of registered Nepali orphanages and children’s homes are located in the country’s five main tourist districts, out of 77 national districts. Some of the orphanages and homes force children into manual labor or begging, force them to entertain visitors for donations, and sexually abuse them. Since 2016, police have identified and arrested at least 12 tourists or international volunteers, all men older than 50, mostly from Western countries (Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States), for sexual abuse of Nepali children, including child sex trafficking. Although there is increased will to act against the traffickers operating these children’s homes, NGOs reported some owners of exploitative child institutions, including fake orphanages, use political connections to thwart child protective agencies and prosecution. In addition, some child-care homes register as educational hostels to avoid government monitoring.
The government recognized Bhutanese and Tibetans as refugees but regarded refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities as irregular migrants. The government provided registered Bhutanese refugees an identification card that was renewed periodically and provided to children upon reaching 16 years of age. The government has not issued new refugee cards for Tibetan refugees since 1995 nor recognized any Tibetans who arrived after 1990, leaving most of the government-estimated 12,540 Tibetan refugees in the country undocumented, which prevents them from legally working, studying, traveling, and accessing public services. According to a local NGO, upwards of 6.7 million individuals – one-quarter of Nepal’s population – lack citizenship documentation, rendering them de facto stateless. Legal requirements on transferring citizenship continue to impose hardships on children whose fathers are deceased, abandoned, or departed the country to work abroad. Some women are also unable to obtain citizenship due to formal attestation requirements from a male family member. Lack of documentation precludes the participation of all these groups in the formal economy and increases their vulnerability to traffickers.