Every year an estimated 10,000 Nepalese girls between the ages of nine and 16 are trafficked across India's open border and sold into prostitution. Interpol, an international criminal police organization, cites trafficking as a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow exponentially, with more than 200,000 Nepalese girls now working in the brothels of India.
In Nepal, nearly one-third of the population is living below the poverty line of less than $2 a day. When the parent's income is unable to support the family's basic needs, children are forced to provide an additional income. This often entails finding work abroad.
With the help of labor brokers, many Nepalese men and women migrate willingly, finding work as domestic servants, construction workers, or other low-skilled laborers. However, for many Nepalese women, there is a risk when accepting assistance from a labor broker. In many instances, women are promised jobs in carpet factories, hotels, restaurants—even the film industry. But only once they have been transported to work in India do they discover their work will be in the commercial sex trade.
These women, searching for a way out of their circumstances back home are deceived by traffickers, and thus become unwilling participants of India's flesh trade. “Although cases of blatant violence are most often covered by the mainstream media, it is far more common for traffickers to trick or lure women and children into the sex industry by capitalizing on their vulnerability and offering false promises of a better life,” Robynne Locke, Senior Associate at the Human Trafficking Clinic, told MediaGlobal.
Carla Dubé, director of training and program development at the Servant's Anonymous (SA) Foundation, an organization providing assistance to young women able to escape the sex trade, confirmed, “We've heard stories of females going into villages wearing beautiful saris and lots of gold jewelry. When everyone is impressed, telling them that their daughters can have the same if they come and work for a carpet factory or some other such job in India, and later transferred to a brothel owner in India.”
The younger the girl is, the more money the trafficker receives.
The false promise of marriage has become another increasingly common method of ensnaring women into the sex industry. “In countries with extreme gender bias, marriage is often perceived to be the only way to escape a life of poverty and hardship,” Locke said.
Traffickers have been known to visit a village and offer a dowry-free marriage, a relief to poor families who might otherwise go into extreme debt to pay for the marriage of a daughter. “Upon crossing the border, the trafficked person is either delivered to a middleman who completes the transaction, or directly to a brothel.”
Girls working in brothels routinely face violence, intimidation, sexual assault, and torture at the hands of brothel owners, clients, and even police.
Today, people are generally aware of the risks of being trafficked, Siddharth Kara, trafficking expert and Harvard fellow, told MediaGlobal, “But the alternatives are even more bleak.” He explained that there are hundreds of millions of people across South Asia living in extreme poverty, facing internal strife, environmental disaster, caste-based social exclusion, evaporating real incomes, and a host of other factors that keep them at the precipice of disaster.
“Any ray of light for a way out is worth the risk and traffickers are well-experienced at preying on this desperation and lack of alternatives. Parents try to convince themselves that ‘this will be the offer that works out,' but it always begins like this time and time again,” Kara said.
Once trafficked into red light areas, it is virtually impossible for young women and girls to leave the prostitution industry. They are trapped both physically and psychologically, and even if they could escape, these women may not know where they are, how to speak the local language, or who to go to for help.
Those who do find a way out may be sent back home to recruit new victims, become brothel managers, or possibly kicked out onto the street. A girl can be kicked out if she is viewed as unattractive, unwilling or unable to satisfy customers, or if she becomes HIV positive.
Recently, a number of underage trafficked girls have been rescued through brothel raids spearheaded by local NGOs. Survivors are transferred to rehabilitation homes in an effort to help them with their transition back into their community.
However, the number of survivors reintegrating with their families is low due to discrimination and the consistent lack of income generating options.
“Most often the conditions of poverty that initially pressured survivors to leave home have remained unchanged. When survivors return home without means of economic support, they may find themselves in the situation where they once again must take the risk of migrating for survival,” Locke said.
Kara explained that numerous women he has encountered have been trafficked several times. “Shame and stigma back home consign them to a life of limited options.”
However, the SA Foundation has not given up on reintegrating these women back into their communities. They are initiating development programs and services for girls between the ages of 16 and 29 who are, or have been at risk of becoming sexually exploited or trafficked. They have made it their goal to ensure no person be enslaved by or trapped in the sex trade, and have designed long-term recovery programs for young women eager to reunite with their families.
Enforcing existing laws and creating new laws to heavily punish the buying and selling of underage children is likely to lower the number of victims, and slow India's brothel business. Finding other ways of making money remains a constant battle for women and families in Nepal.