The government maintained overall efforts to protect female trafficking victims; however, protection efforts for male victims remained wholly inadequate. The government did not have SOPs for victim identification and referral to rehabilitation services, although police did have internal guidelines on the identification and treatment of victims. Authorities did not systematically track the total number of victims identified, but did identify 368 victims connected to the 235 investigations initiated during the Nepali fiscal year, compared with 419 victims identified the previous year. Of the 311 NPWCs identified victims, 67 were subjected to sex trafficking, 125 to forced labor, and 119 victims’ cases were uncategorized. It was unknown how many of these victims were exploited abroad, although 57 victims identified by CIB were victims of transnational trafficking, primarily in Gulf states. Of the total victims identified, 89 were under age 18 and almost all were female—only four were male. Officials’ poor understanding of the crime, a lack of formal SOPs for identification, and victims’ reluctance to be identified due to stigma hindered proper and proactive identification, especially among returning male labor migrants who reported exploitation abroad. NGOs continued to report government efforts to identify domestic sex trafficking victims improved. Police increased the number of inspections of Kathmandu adult entertainment businesses and more consistently worked to screen for sex trafficking to avoid penalizing victims for prostitution crimes. When properly identified, victims were not detained, fined, or jailed for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking.
Although the government had national minimum standards for victim care and referral to services, referral efforts remained ad hoc and inadequate. It is unclear how many victims were referred to and able to utilize services during the year. Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare (MWCSW) reported its online directory, launched in the previous reporting period to catalog service providers for trafficking victims and migration-related exploitation, had not met its expectations for utilization but there were no efforts to improve it. The government decreased its contribution to provide services for female victims of violence, including trafficking, from 19 million Nepali rupees (NPR) ($186,000) during the 2016-2017 fiscal year to 10 million NPR ($97,700) for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, although this fund’s financing was cumulative and had approximately 16 million NPR ($156,000) in the fund at the beginning of the year. During the reporting period and with support from MWCSW, NGOs opened two rehabilitation homes, 19 emergency shelters, and 19 community service centers for female victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking, bringing the total of government-supported homes to 10, emergency shelters to 36, and community service centers to 123. MWCSW also supported an NGO-run long-term shelter for female victims of violence, including trafficking. MWCSW provided the NGOs funding for three staff members per shelter, some facility expenses, and victim assistance, including legal assistance, psychological support, transportation, medical expenses, and skills training, although NGOs reported this funding was only distributed if NGOs requested reimbursement. Unlike in previous years, MWCSW did not allocate funds for the protection and rehabilitation of male trafficking victims; however, according to the MWCSW, male victims were entitled to the same support as female victims and the government could re-allocate funds for their rehabilitation if male victims sought services. An NGO ran one shelter for men in Kathmandu. Victims had the ability to seek restitution from a rehabilitation fund if the government was unable to collect fines from traffickers under the HTTCA. District courts in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Chitwan ordered their respective district committees for controlling human trafficking (DCCHTs) to provide restitution from the fund, and MWCSW reported DCCHTs had initiated the process for some victims.
Overall victim-witness protection mechanisms remained insufficient. Notably the victim’s right to police protection was not upheld due to resource limitations and observers stated victims were reluctant to file criminal complaints under HTTCA in part because of personal or family safety concerns. Victim protection mechanisms were also impeded by a 2015 amendment to the HTTCA that reinstated a provision allowing victims to be fined if they failed to appear in court or to be held criminally liable for providing testimony contradicting their previous statements. The government did not have established procedures for alternatives to the deportation of foreign victims.
While Nepali embassies in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates provided emergency shelters for vulnerable female workers, some of whom were trafficking victims, the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) acknowledged the shelters lacked sufficient space and resources to meet the high demand for assistance. FEPB collected fees from departing registered migrant workers for a welfare fund to provide repatriation and one year of financial support to families of injured or deceased workers, which could include trafficking victims. During the fiscal year, the fund provided financial support to the families of 102 injured and 810 deceased migrant workers, and paid to repatriate 50 workers. FEBP may also repatriate unregistered migrant workers by requesting funds through the finance ministry on an ad hoc basis. It is unknown if unregistered workers were repatriated during the reporting period. In December 2017, DFE launched an online application for migrant workers facing abusive or untenable situations overseas, or someone on the migrant worker’s behalf, to file a request with officials for repatriation. In the first two months of the application, DFE received 227 repatriation requests; it is unknown how many of these requests were fulfilled or stemmed from trafficking crimes.