In Nepal, it’s common for teenagers and young women from poor rural communities to fall prey to traffickers who promise job opportunities abroad. With a general lack of employment in Nepal and low levels of awareness about the risks, the women travel voluntarily across the border to India. Once there, many are enslaved and forced to work in the sex industry. The number of Nepalese women working in Indian brothels is hard to measure, but social workers in India say it could be around 200,000, with up to 7,000 new arrivals each year.
The 2012 ‘Trafficking in Persons report’ issued by the US Department of State highlights the story of Nayantara. Working at a carpet factory in Nepal, Nayantara was approached by a broker who promised her a good job as a domestic worker in Lebanon. In reality, there was no such job and Nayantara was taken to India where her passport was confiscated and she was sold to a brothel. Forced to be with at least 35 men each day, she was beaten with an iron pole if she tried to refuse. And with no contact with the outside world, it was impossible to gain her freedom. Only when the brothel was raided by police and having been sold to another owner on her release from jail, did she manage to run away and get back to Nepal where she found refuge in a shelter.
Nayantara’s story is not untypical and in a recent article in the Guardian, other Nepalese teenagers explain how they were beaten with rods during their time in India. Not all the girls ended up in the sex industry. Some were put to work on building sites, carrying bricks, while others were trafficked into domestic servitude.
Women and girls with a limited education and from poor rural areas are most at risk. A co-ordinator of a project aimed at combating the trafficking of girls in the Family Planning Association of Nepal explains that these women are “living in an environment of restricted rights, limited personal freedom and few employment opportunities”. Therefore, when presented with a promise of economic independence and a higher standard of living, it is hardly surprising they see travelling to another country as “their only hope”.
Nepal has passed stringent anti-trafficking laws, including the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act of 2007. But with poor implementation of these laws and infrequent action by officials, the traffickers look set to continue profiting from very poor and desperate Nepalese women.