Lost Daughters - An Ongoing Tragedy in Nepal

Monday, 08 December 2008 13:21 By Kamala Sarup and Lys Anzia, Women News Network | name.

Lost Daughters - An Ongoing Tragedy in Nepal
Nepalese women in Jhapa protest sex-trafficking. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

    The top destination for most Nepalese girls is to Mumbai brothels. Other common destinations for run-away girls leaving Nepal include the cities of Pune, Delhi and Kolkata, India. Calcutta, too, is an area where trafficking is a lucrative business. Areas outside of India include cities in numerous locations in the Middle East / Asia regions.

Tamang's wife, Sunita, cast a quick glance towards Tamang. It was then he felt overwhelmed with love.
"What can you do now by crying?" he said to his wife. "Instead, let's leave this village and go far away, tomorrow right away! Could it be that our daughter went to Kathmandu?"

    Girls who are victims of sex-trafficking in Nepal often come from the very poorest regions of Nepal. Without education or opportunity they often live with their families on the poorest outcast edge of society. Often food may be scarce or clean water unavailable. Missing girls can be as young as 8 or 9, but are most often 14 - 18 yrs of age. They often come from the very lowest caste in Nepali society, where hardship is the norm, although current trends in trafficking are showing higher-caste girls who are also being bought and sold by traffickers.

    For the last decade it has been estimated that 6,000 - 7,000 girls are trafficked out of Nepal each year. But these numbers have recently risen substantially. Current numbers for girls trafficked out of the country are now 10,000 to 15,000 yearly. This is compounded as the US Central Intelligence Agency states that most trafficked girls are currently worth, in their span as a sex-worker, approx $250,000 (USD) on the sex-trades market.

    The 2005 data from case records documented by six rehabilitation centers in Nepal of sex-trafficked women show that most (72.7%) rural girls who are trafficked are Hindu by religion. 59.9% are unmarried. 46.5% are 16-18 yrs of age and 77.2% have none to little education.

Tamang wanted to speak but he felt an unbearable pain in his heart. He thought it not at all proper to cry in front of his wife.
"I had suggested that we should get Tara married in time," said Sunita. "You heard my words in one ear and let it go through another ear. Now, who knows, someone could have taken her away and sold her!"
Tamang's heart was broken in two as his wife spoke. He felt as if someone had smeared his burning chest in salt and red chilies.

    The odds for a girl to escape her life in the brothels, once she is there, is very slim. Only a dismal percentage (6.9%) of brothel owners will voluntarily release one of their girls. 73.7% of all girls trapped inside the brothel system must be rescued if they are ever to reach the outside world again.

    Maiti Nepal, a 20 yr old rescue organization,based in Kathmandu, is one of the organizations that today manages ongoing rescue of Nepali girls from the brothels of Mumbai. Going up against organized crime in India is not an easy matter though. "The criminal elements that 'deliver' young girls are a ruthless enemy and have political connections at the highest levels in India and Nepal. Maiti Nepal's main office in Kathmandu has been destroyed twice and Maiti workers must travel with a bodyguard when overseeing rescue missions in India," said the sister organization of Maiti Nepal, called Friends of Nepal.

As Tamang got up abruptly he thought of the young man, Harka, who grew up in his village. In fact, he had heard rumors from time to time about the intimate relation of his daughter with Harka. Maybe his daughter was taken away by him. "Harka is not a good man. I don't trust him," thought Tamang. "He was under police custody for seven days when he was involved in a squabble in the village."

    Most sex-trafficking (59.4%) in Nepal is carried out through "Dalals" or brokers who falsely guarantee good work to girl-children who are willing to travel to other country locations. At times, the some Dalals even pretend to marry girls who come from families with little resources, as they sell them in the brothels. The real tragedy is that most, if not all, trafficking victims fall into forced prostitution because of false promises made by someone "familiar" to them.

    "It is estimated that 50 percent of Nepalese sex workers in Mumbai brothels are HIV positive," says a World Bank 2004 report. The youngest victims of sex-trafficking are those most likely to be directly exposed to HIV/AIDS. There is an "increased risk among those trafficked prior to age 15 years," says a 2007 JAMA - American Medical Association report.

    Coming home with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis causes most trafficked girls to suffer intense judgement. Often Nepal society blames the victims of sex-trafficking, not the traffickers, for choosing a "life of immorality."

Tamang couldn't get a wink of sleep the whole night. On one hand, he was extremely worried at the thought of his missing daughter. On the other hand, his wife didn't allow him to fall asleep because of her nightlong weeping. Seeing his own cold bed he was angry and disgusted. "What is the use of such a life which is full of so many wants?" he said. Even if Tamang worked hard through the year, he could not afford sufficient food for the family nor could he spend more than a few rupees in front of his friends and relatives. And now, on top of it all his daughter, Tara, is lost.

    On top of the discrimination thrown at them for being "sex-workers" many trafficked girls also end up dealing with rejection by others because they have HIV/AIDS. In 2007, JAMA outlined statistics that prove a direct rise in HIV/AIDS cases in the youngest section of girls trafficked from Nepal. These girls are usually 9 to 14 yrs of age. "Within this high-risk group, risk for HIV was increased among girls trafficked at 14 years or younger (60.6% HIV-positive) to those trafficked to Mumbai (49.6% HIV positive) and to those reporting longer duration in brothels," the JAMA report states.

    These problems are wrapped deep inside the structure of Nepal and Indian society as a whole. Girls and women in Nepal are usually only given status according to the economic and social standing of their fathers and/or brothers. A majority of Nepali women are expected to live according to "traditional" Nepali standards that leaves little opportunity to build any self-esteem.

    According to JAMA, "Sexuality is a taboo in Nepal; discussing sex and sexuality is beyond the social morality," states a FWLD - Forum for Women Law and Development (Kathmandu) report. "Sex work is considered 'deviant' behavior and is unacceptable (in Nepal). As a result, sex workers retain highly marginalized status in the society."

    Drug use, too, among girls who have been in the brothels for extended periods of time causes many problems as these girls are returned home to families and home communities. Girls who have received no assistance with drug rehab often try to return to their life in the brothels because of their intense addiction.

    "Injection drug use appears to be extensive in Nepal and to overlap with commercial sex. Another important factor is the high number of sex workers who migrate or are trafficked to Mumbai, India to work, thereby increasing HIV prevalence in the sex workers' network in Nepal more rapidly," says World Bank Asia (2008).

    Predominant drugs abused by trafficked girls working in Mumbai brothels includes cough syrup, cannabis, heroin and propoxyphene (Darvon), along with alcohol and mild tranquilizers. Addiction in the brothels is common among the young prostitutes there.

The next morning as Tamang walked slowly on the street of his village, he went to talk to his good friend, Murali. Many years ago, there was a severe famine in the village and Tamang's field had no yield. It was Murali who proved himself and gave Tamang 48 lbs of corn and 32 lbs of rice for the season. It was Murali who didn't accept any repayment of the loan. Tamang had never forgotten such generosity.
As Tamang walked the village street he saw a crowd had gathered as a rising noise came from a stream of people. Tamang was startled. He had seen this kind of crowd and uproar only once before at the time of the election in Nepal. What kind of unexpected calamity had fallen in the village? Tamang headed straight toward the house of Murali.

    The average stay for most girls in a brothel is not short. Brothel stays for girls who have been rescued average 12 - 36 months inside the brothel system. Unfortunately, those who cannot be rescued are trapped for many more additional years. Even with current ongoing attempts to rescue girls by rescue agencies, countless girls fall desperately through the cracks.

    At the border between Nepal and India rescue agencies attempt to inspect cars for young girls who appear to be trafficked. But even with this, girls and traffickers do make it through. These car searches and border interviews are usually done without the assistance of police or Nepal government agencies.

As Tamang walked closer to Murali's home, people began shouting. Then, through a break in the crowd Tamang saw his friend, Murali's daughter laying on the ground. Her dead body was on the edge of the street. She was filled with death. Had died of HIV/AIDS and someone had thrown her body there.
"The poor soul!" cried an old woman in desperation from the street. "Who was the one who killed this girl at such a young age?" she asked. "She never spoke a bad word to anybody. Such a good girl who has now become a victim of such an evil fate!"

    "The high rates of HIV infection seen among these survivors of trafficking, indicates a need for greater attention from the public health community to this population and to prevention of this violent gender-based crime and human rights violation," said the 2007 JAMA report.

    "In Mumbai and Pune, for example, 54% and 49% of sex workers, respectively, were found to be HIV-positive (NACO, 2005). A large proportion of women with HIV appear to have acquired the virus from regular partners who were infected during paid sex. HIV prevention efforts targeted at sex workers are being implemented in India. However, the context of sex work is complex and enforcement of outdated laws often act as a barrier against effective HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Indeed, condom use is limited especially when commercial encounters take place in 'risky' locations with low police tolerance for this activity."

    "Controlling trafficking has been compounded by the conflict of the last ten years," said Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba, Executive Chairperson of Samanata Institute for Social and Gender Equality in Kathmandu in a September 2008 interview with photo-journalist Mikel Dunham. "The communities (in Nepal) became poorer and some of them had no recourse but to try to find a means for a livelihood. During and after the conflict, there was a lot of displacement, a lot of women came to the urban centers, and most were not equipped to get into jobs. They were not educated-no skills. So a lot of them became 'dancers', you know? So now, it's like a phenomenon. Every town you go to, you have all these dance bars. It's just a front for brothels," Dr. Deuba added.

On the grisly sight of Marali's daughter Tamang thought of his own his daughter and wife. He thought of the conditions of his family, of his life, his home. He was paralyzed with grief. He fell over the body of the young girl and started crying. Now we have to live a pathetic life here," he said. "We are in Sindhupalchowk, as thousands of young girls who are living in the rural areas are the victims of trafficking!"

    The 1999 "Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation" states that over 200,000 Nepali girls exist to supply the world as sex "products" for sale. Along with India, China, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other regions, many nations have also been areas that receive and use Nepali girls in the sex-trafficking and porn industries. In 1999, the city of Hong Kong was the second largest destination for trafficked girls from Nepal.

    Along the 1,740-mile border between Nepal and India, smuggling a girl is still very easy today.

    The district of Sindupalchow is not the only district guilty of smuggling girls. The rural districts of Makwanpur, Dhading and Khavre are also very involved in the ongoing trafficking of girls in sex-exploitation.

    "The government has made stringent laws, but again, the problem is enforcement. Most of the traffickers are very rich. They buy the lawyers. They have money to hire top-class lawyers. They may be even paying bribes to come out of it. And the other thing we have noticed is that most of the women who are trafficked are poor. So even if they come back and they file a case, eventually, they're pressured by their family, who are paid off by the traffickers to keep quiet. And the legal system in Nepal takes forever for a case to be resolved. That has been one problem... When the traffickers are caught, very few are brought to justice," continued Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba, as she outlined the ongoing problems of enforcement against trafficking in Nepal.

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    For more information on sex-trafficking in Nepal link to:

    Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation - College of Arts and Sciences, University of Rhode Island and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Norway

    Fallen Angels - photo essay by Thomas L. Kelley

    Trafficking and Human Rights in Nepal: Community Perceptions and Policy and Program Response, 2001 - Horizons, Population Council & The Asia Foundation

    Litigation, Girl Trafficking in Nepal - INTS 4945 Human Rights Advocacy Clinic, Jennifer Aengst, 2001

    Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007) - UNDP, United Nations Development Programme

    HIV Prevalence and Prediction in Nepalese Sex-Trafficked Girls - JAMA, American Medical Association, 2007

    Sources for this article include: Friends of UNDP - United Nations Development Programme, Maiti Nepal, CIPA - Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, FWLD - Forum for Women Law and Development (Kathmandu), UNDP - United Nations Development Programme, The Asia Foundation, US Department of State, JAMA - American Medical Association, University of Denver - Human Rights Advocacy Center, UNODC - United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The World Bank - HIV/AIDS South Asia Report, Nepal Branch of Statistics Offices - Central Bureau of Statistics, photographer, Mikel Dunham, WILPF - Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Human Rights Watch, Opportunities and Choices Reproductive Health Research Program, Southhampton, UK, 1996-2001 and Terre des hommes Foundation - Kathmandu.

    WNN correspondent Kamala Sarup specializes in reporting and writing stories on peace and antiwar issues, women, democracy and development. Some of her other publications include: Women's Empowerment in South Asia, Nepal; Prevention of Trafficking in Women Through Media; Efforts to Prevent Trafficking for Media Activism.

    Lys Anzia, 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee, humanitarian journalist and award-winning playwright, is founding director for Women News Network - WNN. Lys is strongly dedicated to bringing issues of global women's equality and human rights to the public through the use of media.

Last modified on Monday, 08 December 2008 16:51