And an Interview by Mikel Dunham with Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba
September 30, 2007
In recent years, the estimate of the number of Nepali females being trafficked each year to India (and beyond) was approximately 6,000-7,000. However, according to the latest report issued by the UN Regional Office for South Asia for Prevention of Drugs and Crimes—released last week—at least 10,000 to 15,000 girls are now trafficked from Nepal to the subcontinent. The office labels trafficking as the world's fast-growing international organized crime.
Gary Lewis, head of the regional UN office, accrues the increase
to continued illiteracy, poverty, Nepal's decade-old armed conflict, as
well as other economic and social issues long neglected.
Roy, the project coordinator of the UN office, also noted that the
number of displaced people and the surge of internal migration has
transformed Kathmandu into a prosperous center for trafficking: "The
women and teenage girls who come to Kathmandu in search of the jobs
become soft targets for the pimps." Consequently, AIDS and other sexual
transmitted diseases are on the rise. 40% of the sexual workers
returning to Nepal from different Indian cities carry HIV/AIDS.
In an article published in the October 11, 2007 issue of The New York Review of Books("Women
and Children for Sale") author Caroline Moorehead says the issue of
trafficking is riddled with "deep divisions over how to deal with it
among both national and international organizations." But, she adds:
"What is clear is that the conditions surrounding trafficked women and children include all the classic elements traditionally associated with slavery:
abduction, false promises, transportation to a strange place, loss of
freedom, abuse, violence, and deprivation. Those involved are isolated,
controlled by various emotional and physical techniques, made dependent
on drugs and alcohol, duped and terrorized into submission...Sold on from
owner to owner in a long cycle of abuse, women make excellent
commodities: the profits are immense, the chances of being caught
small, the penalties derisory, and the women can also be forced to pay
back the costs incurred in their purchase and transport, their supposed
'debt' a further device to enslave them. A CIA report has estimated
that traffickers earn an average of $250,000 for each trafficked woman."
Recommended reading: Caroline Moorehead's Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees (Vintage Books, 2006)
INTERVIEW WITH DR. ARZU RANA DEUBA
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba in Kathmandu. Dr. Deuba is Executive Chairperson of Samanata, Institute for Social and Gender Equality, and President of Safe Motherhood Network Federation of Nepal, among other organizations. Dr. Deuba addressed the issue of trafficking in Nepal.
DUNHAM: Sex trafficking: Why is it so difficult to get the upper hand on this problem?
For one thing, controlling trafficking has been compounded by the
conflict of the last ten years. The communities 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.
And you go to the rural areas: There are a lot of women, especially
from the indigenous communities, the Dalit communities and the very
poor groups who are now being trafficked under the guise of employment
overseas. It's a huge problem. I don't think we've been really able to
estimate how many women have been trafficked from Nepal.
DUNHAM: Have there been any serious efforts to contain this, curtail this by the government—whichever government that is?
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.
But more than the government, it's been
the NGOs who have been at the forefront of this. They have been
monitoring at the borders. Of course the law enforcement of the
government is also involved but it's mostly the women's NGOs. They
check nearly every bus, which passes through the borders, and if they
feel that this girl is underage, or traveling along, or looks
suspicious, they question her. "Are you married? Do you have any proof?
Where are you going?" They ask all sorts of question. Some girls have
been saved or rescued like this. But I don't think I could pinpoint a
particular government program that does this, though the laws are
there. The government does cooperate with the NGOs. But it is not as if
they are really watching out for girls who might be trafficked. And
every village has its trafficker.
DUNHAM: And when the traffickers are caught, very few are brought to justice.
Yes, yes. I read in Times of India, there was a report about
trafficking of girls. In India alone, there is an astronomical sum of
trafficked girls. It's a huge, huge mafia that the women are against.
And we don't have anything near that to fight the traffickers. There's
no remedy for greed. In some circumstances, it's even the fathers
sending their daughters. In some cases, the girls go willingly because
they don't realize how miserable it could be. The traffickers say
things like, "You'll just be sitting in a room and getting 10,000
rupees a month." So they go. I was recently in Kantapur, in far-western
Nepal, and we came to know to our horror that traffickers are very
active in that area. When we went there six-seven years ago, no one had
even heard of trafficking. The traffickers are shifting shops. They are
going to newer communities; they are going into the interiors.
Previously, it was hill girls who are very fair from certain
communities. Now they are trafficking anybody who iswilling to listen
to a story. The problem has not decreased. I think the problem is
increasing in fact.
NGOs from Nepal have gone into India to retrieve girls. Can you briefly
talk about the problems these girls face once they are returned?
I think it was in 1997 when the first batch of girls came back. Some of
them had HIV infection. Some of them didn't know where they came from. I
met one girl and I asked her, "Which is your district?" She didn't
know. I asked her, "Which is your village?" She said, "The one with
lots of buffalos." She was taken as a child. So when they come
back, if there is nobody to hold their hand and actually get them
restarted in life, most of them end up in the streets again. They end
up diseased, raped, pregnant, and they just die on the streets. There
are some programs that help them get back on their feet; there are some
hospices for girls that are already infected with HIV/AIDS. But these
programs are few and far between. If the girl comes back healthy, in
some communities they can still get married. There is no stigma but
that is now becoming a rarity. Most of them come back with HIV/AIDS and
the families don't want them back. So they end up maybe in the dance
restaurants in Kathmandu or in some smaller town. Basically, they go
back to the same trade, unless you get them back on their feet.
One of the ways brothel owners keep their girls inside is to get them
addicted to drugs. Is this also an issue when they come back?
DR. DEUBA: Yes, yes. There's a lot of that.
DUNHAM: So if they are freed, they will try to get back to the drugs.
They'll try to get back to the drugs and, we've also found, it's very
difficult to get them work that is not labor intensive and offers
little pay. They find it difficult, after getting used to a lot of easy
money so to speak—even though they are exploited—to come back earning
maybe 100 rupees a day.
What we have realized is that the
younger ones who have been rescued, they are very happy to be back.
They're relieved. They want to be educated. They want to start
independent enterprises. But the girls who have been there a very long
time: They find it very hard to adjust.
Right now, in 2007, what would you say must be changed politically, in
order for women's issues to be more successfully addressed?
I think the first thing is we have to be at peace. The culture of
violence has been existing in our country for the last ten years. It's
very detrimental to positive change. You cannot do many positive things
when everything around you is violence, extortion—so that's a
precondition. Then, the visibility of women has to increase. That's why
women are talking about being elected, entering the political
mainstream, becoming representatives. That's one thing. But the other
thing is that it's not only women who can change society. Men also have
to be party to it. Sensitizing men to the issues of women—not only
because women want to improve—but because, there's proof all over the
world that, wherever women are repressed—and there chances for
improvement and development are not that good—the country doesn't
progress. So if we can sell that to the men, the atmosphere will be
more conducive. Even for women who represent, it's not just enough to
be a woman saying, "OK, I'm a representative." She should also know
what the issues of women are. We've seen this problem in Southeast
Asia. We've had a lot of women leaders, but what did they do for women?
So it has to be a woman who understands women and the men should also
participate in it. You can't clap with just one hand.
you need legal change. Again, that's linked to politics. What kind of
legislation do you have for women in your country, which puts them on
par with men? A lot of our legislation is dictated by tradition, like
everywhere else in the world. It always tries to put women one step
lower than men. So changing legislation, having representation, but
that also in not enough. You must have women who are aware of their
rights. I would still say that the bottom line is education—because
without education—none of these things are going to change. And if it
changes, it's only for a small handful of people. So universal access
to education and a real understanding for the need to change for
women—these would be two basic things that I also think should happen.
RLCC Comment: It is such a fallen state of affairs when sex trafficking occurs anywhere. What is wrong with men that they put the temporary so-called satisfaction of their lust above the welfare of even children. It's evil. Only selfishness allows it.
Men must search their souls and come to realize the great selfish harm they are doing to these other human beings. They must put themselves in the place of these others to feel their pain, suffering, confusion, frustration, and degradation, etc., to come to know that the Golden Rule is the only right path.
Such men using such women and girls are just not understanding that they are doing to others exactly what they ought not want anyone to do to them (the males). It is great harm. It is bringing forth more Hell on Earth. It is opening up the gates to more and more evil outcomes.
There is cause and effect. There are consequences. We can choose a different path. We can change our emotional roots. That's the beauty of God's creation. We are not spiritually stuck. We can rise. We can overcome by turning to righteousness and then not backsliding. However, if we do stumble, we can get back up. We must, or be doomed forever. We must get back up as humanity also.