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Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery: Confined Freedoms

We are at a time when it is crucial to recognize the human right to freedom. This freedom is taken away by those who commit heinous crimes against humanity by engaging in human trafficking.

Swekriti Swaroop Rai

Slavery today exists not as physical shackles of bars and chains but as financial shackles of debt and poverty, which is just as binding. We are at a time when it is crucial to recognize the human right to freedom. This freedom is taken away by those who commit heinous crimes against humanity by engaging in human trafficking. The common denominator in this acutely complex issue is the abuse of human vulnerability. 

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry, with networks connected all over the world. Over 150,000 people in South-East Asia fall into the trap of human trafficking every year. Nepal, India and Bangladesh are at the top of the list of countries affected by it. Thousands of people leave Nepal to seek a better life. Most of them are trying to escape a life of poverty and a lack of opportunities. As of 2019, close to 11.4% of Nepali people were close to unemployment. About 1,600 Nepali people leave the country every day to find work in foreign countries.

Though information on the dangers of being trafficked on the course of finding foreign employment is widespread, many people fall into the trap of being trafficked or are coerced and forced into illegal labor. Most of those who are trafficked do not even realize that they have fallen victim to this crime until it is too late.

The most disturbing face of this kind of human exploitation is ‘sex trafficking’. The trafficking of Nepali women and children to India has skyrocketed in the last five years. Many brave victims have come forward and shared their experiences, and many have also contributed to society by building organizations that help survivors like themselves. One of these brave women is Charimaya Tamang, who was trafficked at a very young age. Today she has founded an organization called ‘Shakti Samuha’, which employs survivors of sex trafficking and also helps in the rehabilitation of trafficked women. 

There are many poverty stricken areas in Nepal where brokers hunt for such girls and try to persuade them to leave their homes and work abroad. When words fail, they forcefully kidnap young girls and send them off to cities like Mumbai in India, where they are sold to brothels for sexual exploitation. The state that they live in is physically and mentally disturbing. In 1996 a large raid took place in a series of brothels in Mumbai. 456 sex workers were rescued and among them 218 women were from Nepal. Charimaya Tamang was also one of the victims. However, even after being rescued, Nepal’s government did not allow them to return home since the girls didn’t have their birth certificates or any valid identification with them. These girls, after being rejected by their own country’s government, had to live in India inside closed quarters where officers would hurl abusive comments at them. Some girls escaped the quarters, while some died due to diseases and infection. 

The survivors who were rescued in February were only brought back to Nepal in July. On their return, organizations like Navyajyoti Kendra, Maiti Nepal and many others provided them with rehabilitation facilities. However the problem did not end here as these women still had to face social stigmas. Before sending these girls back to the society, it was very important that they were equipped with the skills and knowledge to get back up on their feet and stand up for themselves. This was also the reason why Charimaya Tamang decided to build her own organization that helped these girls receive employment opportunities, so that when they returned to the society they would have an income and their own identity as well. With support, trafficked girls were able to rebuild their lives.

Nonetheless, before leaving rehabilitation girls should be prepared to face the outside world and be able to proudly say that they are the citizens of this country. Survivors need a good environment and opportunities to stand back up. Even so, the main concern here is the government’s response to sex trafficking, since organizations alone cannot help victims from all over the country. The government has to cooperate with these organizations and implement strong policies that will address this crime effectively.

Another face of trafficking is deception and fraud, and those that benefit the most from this are illegal manpower agencies that recruit vulnerable people and send them to countries with neither guidelines nor proper training. Globalization has made it possible for people to dream big, but not all dreams lead to a happy ending.

Naive people with big dreams of earning more money for themselves and their families and living a more prosperous life usually fall victims to the trafficking racket. Many of them have not been able to return home and meet their families. While taking such a serious issue into concern one might wonder why we can’t just stop them from leaving. With so many organizations and campaigns that are being held to raise awareness against these manpower companies and exploitative foreign employment in every part of the country, how has this situation still not improved?

As people stare into the face of poverty, discrimination and lack of employment opportunities, they prefer to work abroad where the minimum wage is higher than that of Nepal. It is their dream to fulfill the expectations of their family and increase their standard of living. They are so beguiled by the very idea of going abroad that they end up taking heavy loans just to pay these manpower companies that recruit them. They are easily brainwashed by charismatic manpower agents who show them unrealistic dreams and make fake promises.

This is where the problem begins. Their strong desire to work abroad has such a heavy influence upon them that they end up falling victims to forced labor, fraud, and deception. Once trapped into this kind of exploitation, they earn very little money, far less from what they were initially promised in dangerous, dirty and difficult occupations. The worst aspect of this kind of exploitation is that the recruiting manpower agents that profit off the exploitation of working-class people are politically protected. These cases are not treated as cases of human trafficking, and are instead handed over to the FET (Foreign Employment Tribunal). 

Furthermore, many female workers are not allowed to legally go abroad and work. This has increased their risk of getting trafficked, since these women illegally travel abroad as undocumented workers through India and Bangladesh. They become invisible and their protection is not guaranteed. Until and unless people and authorities see migration as a choice and as people’s right to mobility, this situation will not improve, and could keep getting worse. 

Because of the nature of exploitative employment abroad, we cannot be mistaken that men do not fall victims to trafficking. Although all genders fall victim to trafficking, however, women have a harder time regaining stability in society, since the society and their families don’t accept them with ease. In many cases, victims who have returned with disabilities and mental health problems aren’t accepted by their families at all. 

To rehabilitate women survivors of trafficking, organizations like Shakti Samuha follow the 4 R’s; rescue, rehabilitation, repatriation and reintegration, to help the survivors more effectively. In rehabilitation, they use care plans and provide employment opportunities to build a stronger base for them. Before reintegration into families and communities, the families of the survivors are initially assessed. Victims are encouraged to meet and have a dialogue session with their families before reintegration. This is an essential process, since many girls are not able to return to their families, who might be hostile towards them. Those that are not able to go back home even after this process go through urban reintegration, where they get job placements in urban areas. Those who can’t be given both are supported by long term plans. Organizations help them build their careers and gain income, making them mentally strong and capable of rebuilding their lives.

To add to this process, district officers, municipality officers and the local government should also coordinate with these organizations and support the survivors who have returned to their families. The government must cooperate with such organizations and make families and the society responsible through the promulgation of effective policies. Furthermore, the victims should be supported to be mentally strong enough, so that they can appear at court proceedings and fight against those who trafficked them.

Changing society’s mindset and fighting this despicable crime is very complex, and we still have a long way to go, but with the support of the government, organizations that rescue and rehabilitate survivors, and the fortitude of rehabilitated survivors, we hope to see better days ahead. 

Swekriti is a student of social work at Thames International College, Kathmandu.

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