Since 2013, the amount of people trafficked into India from Nepal has increased by 500% in 2017. Nepal is a major source of human trafficking into India, and the victims are sold into forced labor and sex slavery in cities throughout India for up to Rs. 50,000. Nepal has long been used for human trafficking into India, specifically for the sexual exploitation of Nepalese women. The open-border between the two neighbors was established by The Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950, but is being used by human traffickers for their nefarious actions.
Human trafficking is estimated to affect over 150,000 people a year within South Asia, most of which are women and children that are exploited for labor and sexual slavery. Human traffickers utilize a plethora of tactics to coerce people into being trafficked. Many people from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the other South Asian Nations travel abroad to seek work and send remittances home to their families. Thus many people from South Asia are vulnerable to fraudulent work programs which act as fronts for traffickers. These programs offer fraudulent contracts for jobs that often “change” once a person signs a contract or once a person is sent to the new country such as India, Pakistan, and the Gulf States. In other instances, victims are given “loans” in order to afford their recruitment fees for international working programs, but these “loans” often place people in a position of economic slavery often referred to as debt bondage. In Bangladesh and North East India, families and migrant workers are forced into bonded labor in various industries including shrimp farms, tea plantations and brick kilns. Bonded laborers, are often abused and live in inhumane and secluded conditions. Women in these bonded industries are often sold into sex slavery to human traffickers which often divides them from their families, and exposes them to rape, sexual assault, mental trauma and physical abuse. Children in Pakistan have been used for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and are forced by militant groups to act as spotters and suicide bombers.
In Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugee camps serve as a major source of victims for human traffickers. Nearly all of the Rohingya are desperately seeking income in order to improve their conditions within the refugee camps. Human traffickers often come to the camps and offer work to women, children, or their families only to force them into sexual slavery or slave labor in India, Bangladesh and other countries. Human traffickers are also willing to use more coercive means to force women into sexual slavery such as kidnapping, and since the Rohingya lack documentation, citizenship and even basic rights, keeping track of the nearly one million refugees is seemingly impossible for the Government of Bangladesh and the NGOs assisting with the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya are not the only targets of human trafficking, for young women and children throughout Bangladesh are often targeted for human trafficking. Often, traffickers work in networks and keep “spotters” at public transportation nodes where they seek out young men and women who are traveling alone, or are from rural areas looking for work in the large urban sprawls. Traffickers then deceive people by tricking them into debt bondage or coercing them into sexual slavery.
India has recently adopted a law that would allow for lifetime incarcerations for those convicted of trafficking humans. While this law is powerful measure against human trafficking, and has been recently implemented against two brothel owners for trafficking children for sexual exploitation, there needs to be regional cooperation in order to properly combat human trafficking. Over half of the world’s slaves are in India, which is roughly 15 million men, women and children in bondage in the world’s largest democracy, and less than two in five human trafficking cases end in conviction. In neighboring Pakistan, there is no meaningful legislation on human trafficking but the Government of Pakistan is seemingly interested in stemming the tide of traffickers into and through Pakistan due to the Supreme Court ordering the adoption of a series of recommendations ordered by a government committee set up to address the issue of human trafficking.
Although human trafficking spans the globe, and the problem touches all corners of the world, South Asia is in need of increased support by the global community to properly address the issue. Human trafficking was last addressed at the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but SAARC is often sidetracked due to India-Pakistan disputes over Kashmir, or Pakistan’s accused interference in Afghanistan. Additionally the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution was held in 2002, and little changes have occurred in many South Asian nations due to the lack of legislation or the lack of enforcement of anti-human trafficking initiatives. Human trafficking is not only a violation of human rights, but is a major source of income for transnational organized crime and foreign terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State, which utilized human trafficking as a method of financing its violence in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, organized crime syndicates have sold women in Nepal for sexual exploitation to the Islamic State in Syria, and militants in Kenya and Tanzania. These women were forced to work as prostitutes to finance terrorist operations, in addition to being used as shields during terrorist attacks.
Laws against human trafficking must be implemented and explicitly protect against all forms of human trafficking. Additionally, prosecutions of human traffickers must increase and carry severe penalties in order to properly punish those who violate the basic human rights of millions of victims. Additionally, the dismantling of the structures and networks of human traffickers would be a serious blow to both transnational organized crime and foreign terrorist organizations who may use human trafficking as a source of income. Cooperation between South Asian Nations, and increased cooperative border security can prevent human traffickers from utilizing “gaps” in borders between countries. Increased investment in surveillance and reconnaissance technology, such as thermal imaging and drones call allow border security services to extend their range of coverage and monitoring. Nepal has recently deployed drones to their border with India to combat the human trafficking epidemic. Moreover, investment in additional naval vessels could allow for more ships to cover maritime trafficking routes. Additionally, the United States and other regional partners could be utilized in order to help patrol the vast Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea for suspected human traffickers.
Another way to combat human trafficking is to enact comprehensive legislation that protects and improves the rights of women whom are most vulnerable to human trafficking. Increasing employment opportunities for women could prevent women from seeking out employment in foreign countries, or from untrustworthy employers at home. Rehabilitation programs would also help to undo some of the physical and psychological damages of bondage. Educating people on the differences between illegitimate work and legitimate work, as well as the threats posed by debt bondage and human traffickers might reduce instances of people falling for their deceptive tactics. Investing in shelters and work programs for runaways, refugees and internally displaced persons would allow for physical safety and economic security for those who are extremely vulnerable to human traffickers. Moreover, regional responses to natural disasters, such as the 2015 Nepal earthquake, can be more effective. Increased aid and the rapid deployment of shelters could alleviate the number of displaced people, giving human traffickers less targets. South Asian nations could stockpile deployable homes that the UN uses for disaster relief, and allocate funding for work programs for future refugee populations.
Human trafficking is a threat to the vulnerable people throughout the world, and is the third most profitable industry for organized crime and terrorists. It disproportionately affects the men, women and children of South Asia, and requires the entire region to work together in order for any substantial progress to be made to halt the abuses of modern slavery from continuing unabated. Finally, it should be noted that even the other countries in South Asia that were not mentioned in this piece are victims of human trafficking as well, and would benefit from the aforementioned programs.