Maiti Nepal
Nepal, landlocked between the global superpowers of China and India, is one of the most impoverished countries in South Asia, due in part to poor infrastructure, corruption and natural disasters. Staggering poverty rates and unemployment have created a crisis at the India-Nepal border, a hotspot for human trafficking. Women and girls are especially at risk of sex trafficking, especially girls in rural communities far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Maiti Nepal aims to address the growing issue of human trafficking in Nepal.

Women and Girls at Risk

Women and girls make up about “71% of modern slavery victims” worldwide. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and geography all contribute to the human trafficking crisis. Faced with few prospects, many girls are lured into the hands of traffickers with the promise of work and prosperity abroad.

Traffickers transport these girls to urban centers, either to Kathmandu or various cities in India. These girls must work in brothels, massage parlors, dance clubs, circuses and private homes. If the girls are lucky enough to make it back home, they then face additional discrimination and struggle to reintegrate into society.

COVID-19 Worsens the Trafficking Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks of human trafficking for girls. As unemployment rises, desperate families are more likely to believe traffickers can provide a better life for their children. In a society that views girls’ education as less important than boys’, extended school closures leave girls at heightened risk of falling victim to trafficking. It is imperative that global actors and the government of Nepal take immediate action to protect girls and women during the pandemic.

Neither India nor Nepal requires documentation for citizens to cross their shared border, allowing traffickers to move people across without detection. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has further depleted the resources and ability of anti-trafficking officials to adequately monitor border crossings. Estimates indicate that traffickers move 54 women and girls into India every day.

Maiti Nepal Spearheads Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Anuradha Koirala founded Maiti Nepal in 1993 with the goal of addressing the trafficking of women and children. Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Koirala has devoted the majority of her life to rehabilitating survivors of trafficking and implementing prevention efforts. Maiti Nepal recognizes that without improving conditions in Nepal, trafficking will continue to persist.

Though the Nepali government attempts to monitor the border, women and girls continue to slip through the cracks. Maiti Nepal supplements the government’s efforts to guard the busy border between India and Nepal. Volunteers directly intercept traffickers at the border and safely return the victims to their homes or a transit center. To date, Maiti Nepal has intercepted more than 42,000 girls at the border and convicted 1,620 human traffickers.

Maiti Nepal began as one rehabilitation home to house survivors. Now, its programs include prosecution and legal counseling, transit homes, education sponsorships, job training, advocacy efforts, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS treatment programs, among others. Maiti has provided rehabilitation services to about 25,000 women and children. The nonprofit spearheads multiple efforts to provide direct aid as well as prevention and advocacy efforts throughout the country.

Looking Ahead

The continued efforts of Maiti Nepal and the Nepali government safeguard impoverished girls and women from the lures of human trafficking. Understanding the links between poverty and human trafficking, a broader focus on poverty reduction can accelerate efforts to combat human trafficking in Nepal.

– Elizabeth Long
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Nepal
Millions of Nepalese citizens are at risk of becoming victims of the human trafficking trade every year. However, one can only estimate the statistically correct percentage of victims. Captivating International, a nonprofit based in Nepal, founded My Business-My Freedom in the hopes of fighting human trafficking in Nepal.

My Business-My Freedom

My Business-My Freedom is a micro-finance and education program helping Nepalese women achieve business success, self-sustainability and freedom. Beneficiaries include both women who are most at risk of becoming victims of trafficking and current rescued survivors of human trafficking in Nepal.

The organization estimates that a loan of $200 will help one woman start her business and that when she repays it, it will go to the next prospective business owner. Currently, 240 women living in Pokhara and Chitwan are immersed in the program with room to grow. The initiative plans to continue expanding into other regions and aiding around 1,000 women per year.

How does My Business-My Freedom Work?

The program leads each woman through the process of starting a business including ensuring that it is successful, well-funded and sustainable. The My Business-My Freedom program involves the following steps for prospective business owners:

  • Providing training about entrepreneurship and business opportunity.
  • Mentoring on money management, savings, budgeting and other basic business skills.
  • Connecting with other women in similar circumstances in order to create a sense of belonging and community.
  • A low-interest loan to start up the business: when it is paid, the owner is eligible to take future loans until it is no longer necessary.

Captivating International and COVID-19 Relief

In recent news, My Business-My Freedom partnered with 3 Angels Nepal to combat food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The partnership accomplished this through checking in on women and families over the phone. If the women and their families were in need, the partnership made and delivered food relief packages to them. These packages included rice, dal, cooking oil, salt, soybeans and lentils.

The efforts of Captivating International and 3 Angels Nepal found that 30 women were in need, and provided them and their families with food. The latter organization also works on the ground by suspending loan payments and providing both phone support and food assistance.

Lowering Vulnerability Through Funding Successful Entrepreneurs

According to the Report of Armed Police Force of India, the number of Nepalese girls working in sex trafficking in India increased quite steadily from 2012 to 2017. Child trafficking is incredibly high as well. Captivating International, through My Business-My Freedom, is just one of the organizations working to eradicate human trafficking in Nepal. In covering a widening area of influence and contributing to building the economy, Captivating International is creating sustainability by increasing security and income for women. This, in turn, should help to alleviate the vulnerable populations that traffickers prey upon in Nepal.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

In the wake of the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal on April 25, the world responded to help those buried in rubble, but as the region rebuilt itself, traffickers preyed from the shadows on families seeking a better life.

Even before the earthquake hit two months ago, human trafficking in Nepal plagued communities and victimized children. According to a 2001 International Labor Organization study, 12,000 Nepalese children were brought to India as a result of human trafficking every year.

After natural disasters such as earthquakes, children face a greater risk of being trafficked. Girls who are not forced into prostitution would be sold as domestic slaves in India or other countries, and boys are often subjected to harsh working conditions against their will.

Traffickers approach tragedy stricken families offering education, food and security for their children, when in reality, children are whisked away in to a life of monstrous exploitation and horrendous abuse.

Thankfully, multiple organizations have made efforts to deal with the aforementioned issues. UNICEF, a United Nations children’s organization is working closely with the police in Nepal and has already rescued 245 children since the earthquake, by intercepting and thus preventing them from slipping into a dark underworld of sex slavery and forced labor. UNICEF is also supporting the local police in the establishment of 84 checkpoints and police stations throughout the country.

Maiti Nepal, a national NGO, non-profit organization, with the help of UNICEF, is beefing up interception and screening stations along the India and Chinese borders. UNICEF is ensuring child accountability through the strengthening of information management and coordination systems.

The Nepalese government suspended international adoption since the earthquake and in early June, they banned children from traveling between districts without parents or approved guardians. The registration of new orphanages has also been suspended.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, issued an advisory to increase vigilance at border controls and has advised the society in India to be aware of human trafficking. UNICEF has since spearheaded an awareness and public information campaign by radio reaching the population through 40,000 flyers on prevention of family separation.

25 airline companies operating in Nepal have also been made aware of the need to screen passengers, ensuring that children are accompanied by their legal care givers. Radio Nepal is concurrently airing messages, reaching an estimated 70 percent of the population bolstering awareness.

Lastly, UNICEF has supported the establishment of hundreds of child friendly spaces and temporary learning centers, providing children with education programs as part of a back to school campaign.

Another problem in Nepal, which often hides behind a cloak of good intentions is “Orphanage Voluntourism”. Families around the world with expressed interest to adopt children perceived or mistaken to be orphans, are left unaware about the fact that these children have been deliberately separated from their families to attract high fee paying adoptive families.

UNICEF and its partners have thereby been working to encourage orphanage volunteering programs to discontinue their practices as volunteers. Although for the most part well intentioned, these can be ignorant to deceptive practices. Moreover, backgrounds are usually not adequately checked.

Nepal, like much of the developing world has thus been diseased by human trafficking long before the earthquake in April. After the catastrophe, however, the practice has amplified as wolves in sheep’s clothing prey on the unsuspecting and desperate. Organizations such as UNICEF are therefore out to bring down those who would seek to unreasonably profit from innocence and disaster.

– Jason Zimmerman

Sources: Free for Life, UNICEF, American Himalayan Foundation, The Guardian
Photo: UN News Centre