Countering Human Trafficking: Strengthening cross-border cooperation between Bangladesh, India and Nepal


Kolkata, India / 30-31 May 2017:  Senior Government officials and experts from India, Bangladesh and Nepal emphasised the need for a strong Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and a Regional Referral Mechanism (RRM) to boost cross-border support to victims of human trafficking at two recent consultations held by UNODC in Kolkata, India. Asserting that initiatives to counter human trafficking in the three countries faced several challenges, participants also called for better information sharing and tracking systems, and capacity development programs for all level of stakeholders.

Organised as part of UNODC's regional Trafficking in Persons (TIP) project, the Expert Group Meeting and the Project Steering Committee meeting featured nearly 65 representatives from the governments, border security forces, police and civil society organisations of Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Among key stakeholders, important remarks and suggestions on countering human trafficking were shared by Mr. Md. Abdul Hannan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Bangladesh; Mr. Dilip Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India and Mr. Kedar Neupane, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Nepal.

Representatives from border security forces delivered country-specific presentations, highlighting initiatives on training and sensitisation of border security personnel, human rights-based treatment of victims of cross border trafficking, better identification of victims and traffickers, and effective management of porous borders.

During the deliberations, participants expressed concern at the limited understanding and poor awareness of emerging trends in human trafficking and smuggling of migrants. The difficulties faced by victims in shelter homes; the lack of reliable data on cross-border trafficking and the number of repatriations carried out were also identified as key challenges faced by authorities and border security personnel in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Some felt there was weak "political will" in the three countries to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of trafficking in persons.

Effective sensitisation of border security forces as well as vulnerable communities, and setting up a multi-stakeholder TIP platform to enhance information exchange and coordination were strongly recommended. Following the discussions, UNODC offered to play a lead role in building a common knowledge-sharing platform for governments and civil society agencies.

In an interesting representation of the issues at hand, the acclaimed theatre group, "Spotlight" presented a gripping play exploring different forms of trafficking and the role of communities in curbing the menace. The play showcased how theatre is an effective tool for raising awareness amongst vulnerable and at-risk border communities. UNODC along with its civil society partners also shared the IEC material with the audience.

Key Takeaways

  • Bangladesh has a comprehensive law on TIP and a National Plan of Action to address all aspects of TIP and Cross Border Trafficking (CBT). The government has prioritized the training and sensitization of public prosecutors and law enforcement. A government-led Central Trafficking Committee is also in place with inter-ministerial presence and participation.
  • India is experiencing more internal trafficking as compared to cross-border trafficking. Though India has the necessary legislation and policy frameworks to address human trafficking, there is a need to institutionalise processes for better implementation.
  • The Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Integration (RRRI) Task Force between Bangladesh and India is considered a good platform for the two countries to meet regularly and work out modalities to combat trafficking.
  • Nepal has in place a National Rehabilitation Fund and is running ten rehabilitation centres in collaboration with NGOs.
  • Nepal is keen on case sharing and tracking, but does not have a formal government-led platform as yet. There is a pressing need for an integrated program to create a safety net for trafficked victims as well as to tackle illegal migration.
  • A practical, user-friendly Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to enable 'First Responders' to identify and support victims of cross border trafficking will be developed in close consultation with Government counterparts.


  • There is still a limited understanding of emerging trends in human trafficking and smuggling of migrants.
  • Lack of transit, short-stay homes for victims at the border areas.
  • Lack of reliable data on cross-border trafficking and the number of repatriations carried out by Bangladesh, India and Nepal.


  • The pilot transit home set-up in West Bengal, as well as rehabilitation homes in Bihar, are good practice models. In the scenario where no shelters exist at the border, Mahila Thanas or government barracks with basic amenities may be allotted and equipped for female victims, especially at night. These may be developed under a public-private partnership (PPP) model. Existing detention centres may also be converted into shelter homes.
  • Sensitization and capacity building of security personnel may be carried out through dissemination of user-friendly material as part of the UNODC project. 
  • Effective coordination and synergy between governments, especially border guarding agencies and civil society organizations, should be encouraged. Child Welfare Committees, District Welfare Committees and Departments of Social Welfare should take more responsibility in matters related to the safety of children and women, rather than putting the entire burden on law enforcement agencies.
  • A country specific or centralized database on the number of victims awaiting/granted repatriation should be maintained by all three countries to ensure smooth and time-bound repatriation of victims of CBT.  Task forces may be set up at at all levels to ensure that there are no road blocks in the process of repatriation. A monitoring mechanism within each government is also suggested to track time-bound repatriation and support services provided to the victims.
  • Nodal officers should be appointed to specifically handle TIP queries at Embassies/High Commissions of the three countries. These officers should be equipped to manage queries related to CBT (ranging from prevention, protection, rescue, citizen identification, rehabilitation and reintegration).
  • Border guarding forces should be encouraged to share information/data on specific 'telltale-signs of potential traffickers and victims of CBT. Security forces should also work closely with NGOs, since they have the best inroads into vulnerable (source and destination) communities.