Nepal and India, the countries amongst which trade of products and migration of citizens happens in the same way as between two states of the same country. But the neighboring country’s open border has become a breeding ground for an illicit crime, long ignored by the international media giants; human trafficking. The special relationship reinforced by the Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950 allows easy movement of both goods and people across a 1,800-km long border between the two nations.

But, the traffickers have long routed the path to hosting illegal smuggling and trafficking gangs, making trafficking of Nepalese women into India and then to the world a commonplace occurrence.

India-Nepal: The Open Border

Human trafficking is the second-largest criminal industry in the world. In South Asia, over 150,000 people fall into the traps of human trafficking every year, with Nepal, India, and Bangladesh topping the list of the most affected countries.

The emergence of new technologies for transportation and trade is making businesses easier and more profitable. But, the negative ramification of this inter-country channel between Indian and Nepal have proliferated cross-border trafficking. More worrying, though, is that the trafficking rates of Nepalese women and children have risen by over 500% in just the last five years.

Human trafficking is a menace to India as well as Nepal by law, but none of the country’s existing laws seem to be able to stop it as trafficking keeps growing. In the wake of the global pandemic, both nations closed their borders to curb the spread of the COVID. As a result of lockdown measures, it was expected that heinous crimes such as human trafficking would fall. The crime has, however, continued unabated.

From June to July 2020, India’s anti-trafficking units and the Nepalese Embassy came together to rescue some groups of trafficked Nepali women in India. However, despite the high level of threats, neither of the nations has developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or a comprehensive document that integrates standard operating procedures (SOPs) to resolve the issue.

The Long Network of Human Trafficking

Over 30,000 vulnerable Nepalese are engaged in complicated overseas trafficking for labor, adult entertainment industry, or employment every year. The victims are transported from Nepal to India either via bus or train from where they are transported to other countries, sold to brothel owners, or are forced to work in factories for little to no pay.

Due to Nepal’s ban on sending domestic workers to regions such as the Gulf and Africa, Indian routes to traffic women have grown in popularity. The routes used by traffickers vary based on the destinations they are trying to reach. These women are transported from Kathmandu to New Delhi through Mizoram and Sri Lanka in one way or another. The route Nepal-New Delhi-Dubai is also used by traffickers to transport the victims to African countries. The victims are also flown to the United States through New Delhi-Moscow-Spain-South America.

Poverty: The Root Cause

Every day, hundreds of Nepalese travel to Katmandu to seek a better life, most in an attempt to escape the poverty-stricken life and lack of growth opportunities. According to an estimate, about 16,00 Nepalese people leave the country every single day to find better work.

Another reason that experts believe the root cause of spiking human trafficking in Nepal is illiteracy and women’s personal autonomy. Due to widespread poverty, persistent unemployment, and dowry demands, parents avoid spending on a girl child—both India and Nepal witness widespread child marriage, which is a major cause of widespread human trafficking. In order to lure victims for human trafficking, fictitious marriages are used as a pretext. Parents marry off their daughters at a very young age, whose husbands then sell them off to traffickers or directly to brothels.

Furthermore, the lack of employment and the high poverty rate in the country make women and girls vulnerable to the risk of exploitation. Traffickers lure the women and their families by the fake promises of better wages of living in the foreign land. Thus illicitly pull them into the trap of trafficking.

The Solutions to Battle Human Trafficking

In order to uproot all trafficking supply chains, India and Nepal must build a united legal and social framework. Identifying and intervening in cases of human trafficking requires a plan and training by both countries’ border security forces. First, an emphasis must be placed on the role of first responders, either corporate, government, or individual. Secondly, it is imperative that security forces guarding the India-Nepal Border receive training so they can identify human trafficking victims.

The regulation of the open border must also take into account. The strengthening and ratification of international frameworks and agreements will strengthen the cooperation among the countries. Having gaps in the system is a transnational problem that can’t be solved in a single country. Furthermore, both the country should identify the socio-economic factors that facilitate trafficking (such as poverty, unemployment, child marriage, preference for female children, etc.) instead of solely focusing on improving the legal framework, which lacks implementation and is riddled with loopholes.