Virginity for Sale: The Dark World of Forced Teen Prostitution
WNN Nepal -- "In recent years, millions of women and girls have been trafficked across borders and within countries. The global trafficking industry generates an estimated 5 (billion) to 7 billion U.S. dollars each year, more than the profits generated by the arms and narcotics trades," a February 2001 Asia Foundation and Horizons Project Population Council report said.
In the late 17th century, the brothel area of Kamathipura was established to service British troops in what was then called Bombay, India. In 2004, the cost to buy a trafficked girl from Nepal in what is now called Mumbai is 100,000 to 120,000 rupees ($2,004 to $2,405). Girls trafficked from Nepal are known as a tsukris. They have been "indentured" (forced) to work under a never-ending contract commonly found with human trafficking.
The industry in the trafficking of Nepali girls is a lucrative business, and it can include forced labor, domestic and factory work. Teenage girls are often used in the sex industries, though, because of the extreme profit for traffickers and the very low incidence of law enforcement against sex-industry racketeers.
Arresting the traffickers can be very tricky. In rural Nepal, this is a constant challenge because adequate police enforcement is often nonexistent. Seen only as an investment to brothel owners, trafficked girls, in addition to the daily sex-servicing of clients, are used by the brothel owners as "virgins" -- owners attempt to sell a girl’s virginity over and over again. This insidious crime can be found throughout the back alleys of Mumbai.
So, why are most brothel owners interested much more in owning girls from Nepal versus girls from India?
Villages like Ichowk, Mahankal and Talmarang in the Sindhupalchok district in north-central Nepal are full of girls who are more than eager for a better life. The rural districts of Makwanpur, Dhading and Khavre are also very involved in the trafficking of girls.
Besides this, rural Nepalese girls are cheaper to buy, easier to control and enslave; they are known to be much more obedient and are considered more attractive for brothel owners who may want to resell them. Because of their naïveté, these girls are easier to cheat and to force into debt bondage because they have very little, if any, education, and they usually do not speak any of the native languages of India.
"Annually, according to U.S. government-sponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors," the U.S. Department of State reports in a 2008 study.
(On April 21, 2008, WNN correspondent Kamala Sarup organized a program on HIV/AIDS and trafficking in the district of Sindhupalchowk, Nepal. At the bottom of this article, she shares a firsthand story about the sex trafficking in Nepal.)
Easily Exploited Demographic
According to the Asia Foundation, a human rights advocacy group, many Nepali communities "recognize the role of social and economic hardships in vulnerability to trafficking. They also blame the immoral character of the trafficked girl herself. Girls who seek independence want exposure to the world outside."
While girls are faced with desperate prospects in trying to "improve" their lives, they are many times "tempted by the prospect of gaining material benefits and are perceived as bad and more likely to be trafficked," the Asia Foundation said.
The structure of Nepali and Indian societies serve to make these girls vulnerable. 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 leave little opportunity to build any self-esteem.Eighty percent of Nepal’s population lives in rural areas. It is peopled by a majority of youth: the average age in Nepal is 20. According to 2007 statistics from the United Nations Development Program, Sindhupalchok district has a total population of 305,857. Literacy there is 46.5 percent. Infant mortality is 48 per 1,000 births; child mortality is 61 per 1,000. It is an area wracked with extreme poverty.
Data from 2005 case records documented by six rehabilitation centers in Nepal of sex-trafficked women show that most (72.7 percent) rural girls who are trafficked are Hindu, 59.9 percent are unmarried, 46.5 percent are 16 to 18 years old and 77.2 percent have little to no education.
In many rural areas, some girls leave home because of domestic violence and other personal problems. But there also are many cases of girls who leave home purely in an attempt to better their lives, or to provide for family obligations. Many sex traffickers take advantage of these conditions as they falsely encourage girls to leave home.
Most sex trafficking (59.4 percent) in Nepal is carried out through dalals, or brokers, who falsely guarantee good work to girl-children who are willing to travel to other countries. Often these girls are persuaded by people who offer marriage and a better life, jobs or money. Many times, they and their parents are also promised education in the large cities of neighboring India. While this is not often the case, some parents who are suffering under severe economic hardship are also known to deceive their daughters as they sell them to traffickers.
Because most sex trafficking in rural Nepal is often made through personal contacts and arrangements, up-to-date, detailed and accurate documentation and data of girls who have been forced into the global sex industry in this region is still greatly lacking. Tragically, many missing girls from Nepal disappear deep into the brothel system of India. As time passes, they are often sold again and again, to one owner after another, only to settle deep into the degradation of life trapped as a young prostitute.
Girls who are victims of sex-trafficking in Nepal often live on the poorest, outcast edge from the lowest caste of society, where hardship is the norm. Often food may be scarce, or clean water unavailable. Missing girls can be as young as 8 or 9, but are most often 14 to 18. However, current trends are showing higher-caste girls are also being bought and sold.
For the last decade, it has been estimated that 6,000 to 7,000 girls are trafficked out of Nepal each year. But these numbers have recently risen substantially -- current numbers are 10,000 to 15,000 girls yearly. The Central Intelligence Agency states that most trafficked girls are worth $250,000 on the sex-trades market.
The top destination for most Nepalese girls is to Mumbai brothels. Other common destinations for girls leaving Nepal include the cities of Pune, Delhi and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. Trafficking is a lucrative business in Kolkata, too. Areas outside of India include cities in the Middle East and other Asia regions.The odds for a girl to escape her life in the brothels are very slim. Only a dismal percentage (6.9 percent) of brothel owners will voluntarily release a girl; 73.7 percent of all girls trapped inside the brothel system will only reach the outside world again if they are rescued.
The stay for most girls who are rescued from a brothel is 12 to 36 months. Unfortunately, those who cannot be rescued are trapped for many more years. Even with ongoing attempts by rescue agencies, countless girls fall desperately through the cracks.
Maiti Nepal, a 20-year-old rescue organization, based in Kathmandu, is one of the organizations that manages the 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 Maiti Nepal.
High Exposure to HIV/AIDS
"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 the ones 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 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 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.
"Within this high-risk group, risk for HIV was increased among girls trafficked at 14 years or younger (60.6 percent HIV-positive) to those trafficked to Mumbai (49.6 percent HIV-positive) and to those reporting longer duration in brothels. 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."
"In Mumbai and Pune, for example, 54 percent and 49 percent of sex workers, respectively, were found to be HIV-positive," (India's National AIDS Control Organization, 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."
Drug use, too, among prostituted girls causes many problems when these girls are returned home to families and communities. Girls who have received no assistance with drug rehab often try to return to life in the brothels to feed their intense addictions. Drugs abused include cough syrup, cannabis, heroin and propoxyphene (Darvon), along with alcohol and mild tranquilizers.
"Injection-drug use appears to be extensive in Nepal and to overlap with commercial sex," says World Bank Asia (2008). "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."
Trafficking Remains Easy
"Trafficking in persons means the recruitment, transportation, purchase, sale, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by threat or use of violence, abduction, force, fraud, deception or coercion (including the abuse of authority), or debt bondage, for the purpose of placing or holding such person, whether for pay or not, in forced labor or slaverylike practices, in a community other than the one in which such person lived at the time of the original act described," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan attorney and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence, at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
In 2007, the interim government of Nepal upheld sanctions against all human trafficking in Nepal.
THE INTERIM CONSTITUTION OF NEPAL, 2063 (2007)
29. Right Against Exploitation
(1) Every person shall have the right against exploitation.
(2) No person shall be exploited in the name of custom, tradition and practice,
or in any other way
(3) No person shall be subjected to human trafficking, slavery or bonded labor.
(4) No person shall be subject to forced labor.
Still, along the 1,740 mile border between Nepal and India, smuggling a girl is still very easy. Rescue agencies attempt to inspect cars for young girls who appear to be trafficked. But girls and traffickers still make it through, because these car searches and border interviews are usually done without the assistance of police or Nepal government agencies.
"Controlling trafficking has been compounded by the conflict of the last 10 years," Arzu Rana Deuba, Ph.D. executive chairwoman of Samanata Institute for Social and Gender Equality in Kathmandu, said in a September 2008 interview with photojournalist 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.
"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."
The following is a firsthand story about sex trafficking in Nepal:
Tamang used to come to Kathmandu at our house every year. He was a part-time tailor and full-time farmer who used to work in Kathmandu to make extra money to take home each year. He was a very poor man. When I saw him the first time, he told me he wanted to send his daughter, Tara, to school. I felt very kind toward him, so I gave him a small room to stay at our big family home in Kathmandu. But my parents did not like my decision, and our community criticized me because of his poverty and standing. This year, Tamang did not come to Kathmandu, so I went to see him and his family in his village.
The daughter of Tamang was lost. But for Tamang, it's not a new incident, because the loss of girls in Nepal is quite common in Sindhupalchok. (Sindhupalchok is a district of the Central Development Region of Nepal in the Bagmati Zone, 75 kilometers from Kathmandu).
Watching Tamang enter his house after his day's work, he consoled his wife, Sunita, as their worry about Tara mounted. These are the moments when Tamang should be sharing his pleasures and pains with his wife. He loves Sunita very deeply. He remembered well how he had sung love songs while going to the market in his youth with Sunita. But now, how can he console his wife? Tara was missing, and there was no one who knew where she had gone.
Tamang tries to control his hesitating and worried mind. He lights a leaf-wrapped cigarette, letting his mind burn along with the dark stick of cigarette. "This life just goes on burning just like a cigarette!" he sighed in dismay.
Sunita cast a quick glance toward Tamang. It was then he felt overwhelmed with love.
"What can you do now by crying?" he said to her. "Instead, let's leave this village and go far away, tomorrow right away! Could it be that our daughter went to Kathmandu?"
Tamang wanted to spea,k 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.
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."
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.
For more information on sex trafficking in Nepal visit:
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) -- United Nations Development Program
In an Emmy Award-winning film, Executive Director of Apneaap Women Worldwide, Ruchira Gupta, goes inside the brothels of Mumbai to show the degradation of girls who have been trafficked from Nepal to serve in India’s sex industry. This is a 8:57-minute film excerpt.