Every year thousands of Nepali girls decide to leave home. Sometimes they run away without telling their family of their plans. Some of them are forced by their families to search for a job outside the village. But for about 7000 Nepali girls every year, this dream ends in deception. The job that seemed too-good-to-be-true turns out to be exactly that - too good to be true.
These girls are trafficked across the border to India to work in brothels or are sold into household slavery. It's been called the busiest slave traffic in the world.
Rani was 15-years old when she started thinking of ways to escape her grim future. With a "drunkard" father, and a mother who was often sick, Rani found herself taking care of all household responsibilities and for the care of her siblings. “I have two brothers and a sister,” she says. "As the oldest of the family I felt responsible for them". So when a couple of men offered her a job in India, she believed them and went willingly.
Rani speaks English better than most Nepali girls her age, and when she recounts her story, she chooses her words carefully. She's aware that even by talking about her ordeal she's breaking many taboos.
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This story was originally published on 16 February 2012.
Founder of Maiti Nepal, an organization that tries to intercept the girls before they cross the border, Anuradha Koirala emphasizes how intricate the scam of the traffickers is. “We move to one area and they just move to another once we have left. They’re playing a hide-and-seek game with us” Koirala says.
Koirala is one of the leading figures in the ongoing battle against girl trafficking in Nepal.
“After we got democracy in 1990 People talked a lot about the problem of trafficking, but it was focused on Kathmandu. I thought that we should start in rural areas instead of the capital.
Today 5000 to 7000 girls are trafficked every year in Nepal. Though this is still a very high number, it is getting better since NGO’s like Maiti Nepal got involved. Because as history shows, not much is to be expected of the Nepalese government.
During an extensive raid on Indian brothels in 1996, 148 Nepalese women were rescued. The government refused to bring the trafficked women back home. They feared the HIV infected women would spread the decease. It was because if the efforts of a group of NGO that the women were able to return home.
“It is not only the responsibility of Maiti Nepal to look after trafficking victims. It is also the government’s task, but they are not playing a role because of the political instability in Nepal” Says a disappointed Anuradha Koirala.
In 1996, a group of women who were rescued from Indian brothels got together. Determined to take their fate into their own hands, they founded Shakti Samuha. It is the first NGO in the country that is entirely run by trafficking survivors.
Rani also works with Shakti Samuha - after she was rescued from her kidnappers, she found that though she'd missed being sold into prostitution, she couldn't go back to her old life. The conservative Nepali society has no room for girls who are no longer a virgin, and infected with HIV.
But Shakti Samuha has given Rani back her confidence, “I cannot escape being a trafficking victim [but now] my job is to help people and that gives me confidence. My future is bright I think”