As I was watching “The Fighters,” CNN Freedom Project’s latest series that puts a spotlight on the flesh trade in the Philippines, the story closer to home, in Nepal, is relatable.
I remember talking to Geeta Lama in 2010 for a story. And though the story was about Anuradha Koirala who at that time was nominated for CNN Heroes—she later won the award that year—it was important to meet the women who Koirala had rescued from the Indian brothels.
Like Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, the human trafficking crusader and the lead character of “The Fighters,” Koirala has devoted much of her life fighting to bring back Nepali girls and women who have been sold to India for sex slavery.
Her stepmother sold Lama, now 29, when she was 10. She spent three years of her formative years in a brothel in the Indian city of Pune, forced into prostitution before being rescued in a raid operation by Koirala’s organization Maiti Nepal, along with the Indian Police.
While Lama was sold for sex slavery, children in Nepal are also traded for other purposes, including factory work and circuses in many Indian towns.
In April, for CNN’s Freedom Project story, I talked to a group of young Nepalis who were trafficked to India to perform at circuses.
Bijaya Limbu’s parents sent him away with some “agents” for some meagre amount of money. He says they didn’t even realize they were selling him off or did the little boy then know that he was being trafficked. Later he found himself at an Indian circus forced to perform three shows a day at times.
Poverty coupled with lack of education fuels the trade of human flesh in countries like Nepal. In 2011, an estimated 11,500 people were trafficked or targets of attempted trafficking in Nepal (pdf).
But as it seems, the problem doesn’t only persists in Nepal’s villages. Walking down the touristic hub of Thamel in capital Kathmandu gives an instant impression that sex is in the offering. Behind the hidden walls of the dance bars and dark alleys, hustlers walk freely proposing tourists and locals.
The men come close and whisper. They start with “hash,” “ganja” and end up with “women.”
“Do you want woman?” is usually the standard question. You’re likely to bump into these men more than often in Thamel’s streets.
While the authorities have cracked down time and again at the dance bars and massage parlors that allegedly are believed to serve sex, the news comes and goes like the monsoon rain. It’s highly seasonal. Also, the magnitude of the problem is usually unacknowledged or just ignored.
The government though have plans to fight human trafficking, the implementation of law, like most of the other laws in the country, is weak. An estimated 200,000 women are said to be working in brothels across the border.
Kiran Rupakhetee, Under Secretary at the Government of Nepal’s Secretariat for National Committee for Control of Human Trafficking, identifies human trafficking as a “grave issue” that the society and even political leaders aren’t very much aware of.
“The biggest challenge is the implementation of the existing laws and regulations because we are in a very fragile political situation,” he told me. “We have to confess that.”
But while the government is discussing the laws and non-government organizations rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking, women and children in majority are being transacted as commodities. While some end up as domestic helpers within and outside the country, others have ended up in factories, brick kilns and brothels.
There are a lucky few like Lama and Limbu who have been rescued and been able to reintegrate themselves into the society.
But as we write and read their news of joys being rescued and starting life all over again and their sorrowful stories of being sold, there are thousands of others who are waiting to be rescued, whose stories might one day make headlines. And if not, their lives might just diminish as we are collectively crusading against human trafficking.
Those lives might just be another number to add to the increasing statistic that shamefully is human trafficking.