Sold into prostitution for $680 in Nepal

Kamala Panthi

"My aunt lured me with tall promises of finding work in Kathmandu. But I ended up in a brothel in Pune," Sunita* broke into tears recalling the old wounds of the past. "I'm totally perplexed. No way for me to return anywhere," she said. "My aunt has ruined me completely."

Sunita was only nine-years-old when her aunt sold her three years ago. Her step-mother's cruel treatment and severe economic hardship forced her to accept her aunt's offer.

Her step-mother was too glad to grant her permission to follow her aunt to the capital. She only remembers what happened to her until she ate the food given by her aunt in the bus. After then, she fell unconscious. When her eyes opened, she found herself in a clean bed -- in a grand house. For a while, she felt elated but when she realized that her aunt had sold her for 30,000 Indian rupees (US$680), she couldn't believe it.

She tried to escape but was helpless before the guards. She went through extreme physical and mental torture. Hot water was poured upon her head, and they beat her with an iron rod until she fell unconscious. After some time, the torture became a part of her life. So had a "job" to submit her "body" to about a dozen customers every day for three years.

Then one day, Maiti Nepal -- "an NGO working in the field of increasing awareness to prevent girl-trafficking," with the help of Indian police, rescued nine girls, including Sunita, from the brothel.

"Today, all other girls have returned to their homes after receiving treatment. I'm the only one left here and working with the organization," she said.

"The organization, which has rehabilitated me, has inspired me. I will work with them to rehabilitate and rescue other several Nepalese women like me," she said, "I've only one aim -- I'll devote myself to the campaign against girl-trafficking."

This is not just a tale of Sunita of Nuwakot -- there are many Sunitas in various parts of Nepal and India. Nirmala has a similar woeful past. Her step-mother had taken her to Mumbai -- on the pretext of going to get medication -- where she spent about six years in a brothel.

Similarly, Rubina, hailing from Birgunj, was sold by her own husband. After nine months of marriage, her husband took her to Calcutta on the pretext of meeting his aunt. The aunt turned out to be a pimp. However, she was rather fortunate that she finally escaped with the help of one of her own customers. She has married the same man who helped her during the escape.

She has also found the man who sold her after a year long search. But the "dalal" (trafficker) is being defended by a few "big" persons of high status. He has been released from imprisonment -- and her case has been under review for the last five years.

"Even when I've found the man who sold me, the laws of this land are not able to punish him," Rubina said. "It provides protection to the women-traffickers and pimps, but discriminates against and denounces women like us."

There are about 300,000 Nepali women in Indian red-light districts and brothels. According to Maiti Nepal's estimation, about 5,000 to 7,000 women are trafficked out of Nepal every year. There are several organizations working in Nepal to prevent women-trafficking, but they have failed.

"Nepali women are being trafficked not only to India but to several Arabian countries and America as well," Bishwaram Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal said. "Even if they travel abroad to find employment, they are forced into the flesh trade."

Similarly, Dr Renu Raju Bhandari, President of OREK, which is working in the same field, holds that poverty and penury are the main cause of trafficking.

But it is ironic that the government has gradually cut off its services and assistance which it ought to provide to the NGOs and INGOs working to prevent women-trafficking and the rehabilitation of rescued women.

The government has not taken the issue of women-trafficking as seriously as it should, and the lack of necessary laws to punish traffickers and pimps has made the problem worse.

A few months back, one "dalal" went on to boast that he had sold at least 14 women. According to an advocate of Maiti Nepal, the traffickers are able to escape due to the ignorance and slow process of the judiciary.

Uma Tamang says: "A women who hailed from eastern Nepal was successful in rescuing three other women along with her from a brothel a few months back. But even when the women have filed complaints against the traffickers -- the police administration has failed to arrest them. They are roaming freely in front of their own eyes."

In some cases of trafficking, it has been found that the relatives of the victims have sold them in order to sustain living. They don't find it wrong. In Makwanpur, hundreds of girls are sent to work in the circus in India and ultimately fall into flesh trade.

"But the government is keeping mum -- overlooking the plight of its own citizens," Dr Renu Raj Bhandari expressed anger. "Even after their return, they are denied justice. They struggle to find funds for the legal procedures."

At the same time, the government has been working on Human Trafficking Control Act-2063. There are a few omissions in the Bill, which has been recently prepared by the government. The Bill should make special provision to punish those spouses who have trafficked their own wives. There are legal provisions to punish those who have trafficked women, but no provisions to prevent women-trafficking.

Many advocates say that the soon-to-be promulgated Bill still fails to bring the traffickers to book or prevent human-trafficking.

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