With this story, UNODC contributes stories on the life of women suffering different forms of violence in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2009

Nepal: Trafficked women make a difference

Mumbai's red light district and the remote town of Sindhupalchowk in Nepal, which lies 14 miles north-east of Kathmandu, are linked by a girl. The daughter of farmers in Sindhupalchowk, this girl was sold to a brothel in Mumbai, India and sexually exploited. Countless numbers of girls like her are trafficked from Nepal to India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States for sexual exploitation. There seems to be a growing market for girls from rural areas since it is believed that they are cheaper to buy and easier to enslave through debt bondage because of their innocence. They are considered attractive and brothel owners earn large sums by selling their services: most girls are worth, in their "careers" as sex workers, approximately US$ 250,000.

About 80 per cent of Nepal's population lives in rural areas. The networks involved in the sale of teenage girls from Sindhupalchowk are well organized and can count on the collaboration of the girls' families. Many of the traffickers, who are known as "dalals", trap girls and their guardians by offering them marriage and a better life. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Nepali girls are trafficked every year.

Sitting on the ground and sipping her coffee, 28-year-old Reena* from Nepal says "I was taken from Sindhupalc how k when I was only 11 years old and sold to a brothel in Mumbai. I was young and had lived a simple life. For 15 years I worked in the sex trade forced to be part of a life I did not enjoy. My odds of escaping the brothels were very slim." In 1996, the Government of India ordered a major raid on the brothels of Mumbai. Some 800-900 women were rescued, of which 600 alone were Nepalis. Non-governmental organizations managed to return 128 of these women (including Reena) to Nepal. However, since they could not return to their homes for fear of discrimination and abandonment, Reena and these women formed Shakti Samuha, an organization that manages a shelter for trafficked Nepali women in Kathmandu. Shakti Samuha reaches out to young girls across Nepal, raising awareness about trafficking for sexual exploitation. It provides counselling, vocational training, food and shelter to victims, helping them gradually to reintegrate back into society and restore their dignity and self-respect. In addition, it provides training to survivors on how to address violence through self-defence and HIV and AIDS prevention classes. It works with the Government to help set up district-level anti-trafficking units that also disseminate information to young girls and women. Outreach workers also help women who may be sexually exploited in dance bars and factories.

Astha* is one such outreach worker. Today, she is the warden of the shelter. With short cropped hair, boyish looks and dressed in a man's trousers and jacket she shared her story: "At the age of 13 I was brought to a carpet factory in Kathmandu for work. I wasn't aware that I was sold to the owner. They made me work hard, weaving carpets and at night the owner would call me aside and sexually abuse me. I worked there for eight years and have seen girls who were forced by the owner to sell their kidneys". I learned about Shakti Samuha when one of the outreach workers came to my factory to talk about trafficking and the help they can offer. Today I dress like a man, talk like a man and behave like a man so that men won't harass me or take advantage of me".

Reena and Astha are among the few lucky ones. Although they were abandoned by their families, they found acceptance and hope at the shelter run by Shakti Samuha. But there are many other women who still need to be rescued. Women and girls who are victims of sexual violence have been devastated and are among the most disadvantaged, mainly because their suffering is not acknowledged. Most survivors of trafficking in persons have no legal redress or reparation. They are humiliated and subjugated and suffer the physical and psychological consequences of the violence. Victims need medical care and counselling, in particular if they are living with HIV or AIDS. But they face formidable obstacles in obtaining these services. It is essential that these women, like any women, be ensured their fundamental rights.

UNODC and its partners have provided support to the shelter of Shakti Samuha through its regional project on anti human trafficking and victim support.

This project is made possible thanks to the contribution of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

*name changed