A lack of income and education along with caste pressures and outright kidnapping have forced many Nepalese women and girls into prostitution. The trafficking of women and girls for prostitution is a shockingly regular occurrence. Many of young girls end up in India or the Middle East but a large number are also found in Kathmandu and elsewhere in Nepal. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

UNAIDS estimates there are 67,300 women and girls engaged in commercial sex work in Nepal, up from that there are 25,000 in the early 2000s. Studies have indicated that nearly two thirds of commercial sex workers in Nepal are infected with some kind of sexually transmitted infection. A higher reported rate of sexual activity for boys rather than girls suggests that boys who are sexually active are doing so with commercial sex workers. [Source: Wikipedia, Elizabeth Schroeder, M.S.W, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2002]

UNICEF estimates 11,000 to 13,000 girls and women are working in the “night entertainment industry” in the Kathmandu valley alone. Most are children, some as young as eight. “Over the past few years,: UNICEF says, “the expansion of the local sex industry has resulted in a rapid growth in the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation”. Brothels disguised as massage or karaoke parlours. According to the Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC) there are about 600 of these and their owners often prey on naive girls from remote parts of Nepal. Ground zero for the sex trade is "dance bars" in Kathmandu’s seedy Thamel red light district. [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

There are no laws in Nepal that specifically criminalize prostitution. Laws enacted in the 1980s that criminalize human trafficking inside and outside of Nepal are applied to sex work. The Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act, 2064, Act Number 5, enacted in 2008, criminalises prostitution and living of the earnings of prostitution by including it in the definition of human trafficking.

Elizabeth Schroeder wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Human trafficking is an issue that has gained wider attention over recent years, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. Nepali law prohibits human trafficking, with penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for breaking this law. However, trafficking in women and girls remains a serious problem in several of the country’s poorest areas. [Source: Elizabeth Schroeder, M.S.W., Encyclopedia of Sexuality ^^]

Badis of Nepal: the Sex Worker Caste of Nepal

Few people have suffered more under the caste system more than the Badis of southwestern Nepal, sometimes called untouchables among the untouchables. Their women often work as prostitutes for a dollar a trick because they have no other way to make a living. Mark Magnier wrote in Los Angeles Times: “Badis trace their roots to the Licchavi dynasty in what is now northern India's Bihar state. In the 14th century, the tribe moved to Nepal, according to a research paper by Thomas Cox, an anthropologist at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University. There they received land and money for providing concubines to small-time rulers in western Nepal. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2011]

“After 1950, local royalty lost power in a pro-democracy movement, and the Badis saw their clientele disappear. The tribe eventually turned to prostitution. “With economic and social changes, their status went down and down," said Ghanashyam Dangi, founder of Rapti Vidyamandir Management College in Ghorahi. "Eventually they became common prostitutes and untouchables." Tatulam Nepali, 75, renowned for her singing and dancing, proudly recalls performing for the royal family in Kathmandu. “Three hundred years ago we sang and danced for kings," she said. "Now people misuse us, force us into prostitution. But our performance culture should be revived."

“Limited education among Badis has hindered greater respectability even as the caste system slowly loses its grip. And most of those who try to break out to run tea stalls, tobacco shops or hair salons say customers know they're Badis and refuse to pay, abusing them or boycotting their business. “You can change laws," Nirmal Nepali said. "It's a lot harder to change the culture."

“The spider's silk entrapping the Badis is strong and often subtle. For years, children born of prostitutes without known fathers were unable to secure the national ID card that is needed for schools, government welfare programs, respectable jobs. In 2005, the Supreme Court ordered the government to extend formal citizenship to Nepal's estimated 40,000 to 70,000 Badis, establish retraining and alternative employment programs and extend grants to vulnerable families. Bureaucrats stalled until activists threatened in 2007 to undress publicly in Kathmandu, embarrassing the government into setting up the programs. But little has changed, say the Badis, who blame inertia, corruption and Nepal's polarized government.

“Manu Nepali, 18, whose mother and sister are prostitutes, hoped to raise his family's fortunes by becoming a driver. "I was about 13 before I fully realized what my mother did," he said. "The whole family's been dependent on her body." His unsuccessful bid to get an ID card cost him half the $200 government grant money, which the family had hoped to use for a house or education. He spent weeks shuttling among bureaucracies before he eventually gave up, as do many in the largely landless, impoverished and illiterate community. Instead he became a common laborer, one of the few jobs open to uneducated Badi men.

Badi Prostitutes

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Bina Badi tends her garden behind a picket fence. Goats leap. Boys fly kites. Water buffalo laze in the river. Idyllic, except for the used condoms that litter the road and the fact that men have visited her house virtually every day for 28 of her 38 years to enjoy her body, and she sees no escape. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2011]

Badi women have for decades been born into a life of prostitution. “I started before menstruation, probably around 10," said the round-faced Bina Badi, wearing a flowered dress and gold earrings. "The first time was traumatic. I was terrified. I cried, so afraid." Bina said her parents didn't force her, although they quietly encouraged her to follow tradition at a time when she was too young to know to do otherwise. One daughter often financially supports several family members.

“Adding to Bina's indignity, many of the customers who pay $1 for sex — as many as 10 a day during festival times — are local politicians, businessmen, police officers. These luminaries from higher castes take advantage of her, she said, while shunning her in public, never once using their social position to counter the discrimination underpinning her fate. Opportunities for other work are so limited, she said, she feels the only way she can survive is through prostitution. “It's very entrenched," said Man Bahadur Chhetri, program director for the Nepal Youth Foundation.

Unpaid AIDS Workers in Nepal ‘Turn to Prostitution’

In 2011, AFP reported from Kathmandu: Desperate AIDS charity workers in Nepal are turning to prostitution to pay bills and buy food because government bureaucracy has denied them their wages, campaigners. Gay rights and AIDS charity the Blue Diamond Society said it had been unable to pay its outreach workers, who receive as little as 3,000 rupees ($38) a month, for 12 weeks because of a lack of funding. The group’s leader, Nepalese lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, said he employed about 400 “educators” in Nepal, some with HIV, who worked to raise awareness about safe sex, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases. “We don’t have exact details, but many have turned to sex work to survive,” he explained. [Source: AFP, October 7, 2011]

“Pant said some of his employees working in border areas might even be failing to use condoms because of the lack of free contraception there. The World Policy Institute think-tank highlighted this week that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) battling HIV/AIDS in Nepal were being denied $10 million in aid currently being held by the government. The money has been in limbo since 2009, when Nepal announced it would stop funding HIV/AIDS education programmes, saying that infection rates were slowing down.

After pressure from the World Bank, the deeply impoverished Himalayan country agreed to reverse its decision, but problems with contract negotiations and other bureaucratic delays have meant the money has still not been released. About one percent of the adult population of Nepal is estimated to be HIV positive, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). But female sex workers are said to be a particularly high-risk group.

Child Prostitution in Nepal

The abduction of young girls to be taken to India to work as prostitutes is a serious problem. UNICEF estimates that over 40 percent of the commercial sex workers in the Kathmandu Valley are between the ages of 15 and 19. International attention has been drawn to plight of girls who have been lured or abducted from villages to work as prostitutes in Indian cities. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Elizabeth Schroeder wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Girls are sold into sexual slavery by their parents, or leave for India thinking that they are going to get married or have a decent paying job. NGOs working on this topic in Nepal believe that parents do not understand the true consequences of trafficking until it is too late — and that if they did, there would be less done. Organizations like Maiti Nepal are working to provide alternatives to trafficking, such as viable job options, and to help bring trafficked girls and women home from India, to where the vast majority are sold. There are very little, if any, data on the prevalence of young boys who are sold into sexual slavery in Nepal. [Source: Elizabeth Schroeder, M.S.W., Encyclopedia of Sexuality ^^]

According to the U.S. Department of State: Under false promises of education and work opportunities, Nepali parents give their children to brokers who instead take them to frequently unregistered children's homes in urban locations, where they are forced to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers; some of the children are also forced to beg on the street. Many Nepalis, including children, whose home or livelihood was destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes continue to be vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers increasingly utilize social media and mobile technologies to lure and deceive their victims. [Source: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State, June 2018]

Traffickers subject Nepali girls and boys to sex trafficking in Nepal on the streets and in the AES, including dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin “restaurants,” a type of brothel. Sex traffickers increasingly use private apartments, rented rooms, guesthouses, and restaurants as locations for sex trafficking. A study focused on the Kathmandu Valley determined approximately 17 percent of workers in the AES are minors, and 62 percent of adult women in the AES had commenced work while a minor, including as young as seven years old. Many women reported a family or friend had connected them to the establishment, where they voluntarily agreed to waitress-like positions. Then, employers exploited them in forced labor or sex trafficking. The study estimated nearly 30 percent of all minor workers in AES establishments are victims of forced labor, usually as restaurant staff, and employers later subject many to sex trafficking. Traffickers subject transgender persons to sex trafficking. [Source: 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State, June 2018]

Sex Trade with Nepalese Girls and Indian Men

Large numbers of young Nepalese girls are recruited as female sex workers to Indian cities, and large numbers of young Nepalese males working in India frequent female sex workers there and within Nepal. Among the main locations for such encounters is the north-south highway that runs from Nepal to India. Rest stops, teahouses, restaurants, and other types of lodges along the highway and in border cities provide significant venues for prostitution, [Source: Elizabeth Schroeder, M.S.W, Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2002]

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Nepalese women have been shipped to India as prostitutes and sex slaves, with between 5,000 and 7,000 new girls, usually between 10 and 20, arriving every year. Many of them are brought by traffickers who sell the girls for as little as $1,000 a piece. According to Unicef in 2018, 12,000 children are trafficked to India from Nepal every year. Most are destined for brothels but some are forced into bonded labour, marriage, even organ removal. .

Nepalese women are considered attractive because of their relatively fair skin, slender bodies and small Asian features. Many of the Nepalese girls end up in Bombay but they are also found elsewhere. It is difficult to find a brothel in India without some Nepalese women. Many of the girls are illiterates and come from villages in the mountains. They are told they are being sent to India to work in factories or as servants. Instead they are taken by human traffickers and sold to brothel owners, who often break their will, confine them and force them to have sex with strangers. Few families actually sell the girls to traffickers but some are so poor they unwittingly contract purported employers, who turn out to be connected with the child traffickers.

Elizabeth Schroeder wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: A children’s human rights group states that 20 percent of prostitutes in the country are younger than 16 years old. Many of the girls who are sold into the commercial sex trade in India return to Nepal, which creates a number of problems. Cultural attitudes toward returned victims of trafficking are often negative and the Government response often reflects that bias. In addition, girls who return to Nepal often have sexually transmitted infections (STDs). In fact, of the 218 girls rescued in February 1998, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent were HIV-positive. Testing for STDs, including HIV, is a rare occurrence, particularly for young, unmarried girls. The stigma associated with visiting a healthcare provider of any kind, let alone one relating to reproductive or sexual health, far outweigh a young person’s concern about diseases. As a result, trafficking not only does extensive physical, psychological, and emotional damage to the young women being trafficked — it also puts a great segment of the population at risk for STDs. ^^

“While the vast majority of trafficking is for sexual exploitation, women and girls are also sold for domestic service, manual or semi-skilled bonded labor, or other purposes. In some cases, parents or relatives sell women and young girls, especially if they are destitute and do not see their daughters as marriageable. Unverified estimates say that approximately 50 percent of trafficking victims are lured to India with the promise of good jobs and marriage, 40 percent are sold by a family member, and 10 percent are kidnapped. If prevention programs are established in a particular district, traffickers simply move to other areas and continue their work.” ^^

Child Sex Slaves from Nepal

One Nepalese sex worker who worked in India told the Los Angeles Times, after her family's house was washed away by floods she was asked by a village woman if she wanted to make money working in a garment factory. The girl, who was 14 at the time said yes, wanting to help her family. She realized something was amiss when she was taken by a bus to the Indian border and handed over to some men who took her across the border to a brothel in Pune, India. The victim said there were 13 other Nepalese girls at the brothel, most around 14 or 15.

The girl later found out she had been sold for about $700. She said in Pune she was beaten for several days before she agreed to work. She was confined to a windowless room with little more than bed and a light bulb. She serviced up to 30 men a day. They paid $3.50 to $12 depending on what she did and who much time they spent with her, Nearly all the money paid by the men went to the brothel owner.

Another victim told the Washington Post that at the age of nine she was married to a 16-year-old drunk. At 15, she was raped by her uncle. Out of shame her family sent her to India, where she was forced to work in a Bombay brothel. "I never saw the sun rise or set because the windows were always locked," she said. "Every night they sent me 10 or 15 outsiders. Sometimes they raped or burned me with cigarettes. Afterwards they gave us tips, and we hid them in our clothes to buy food."

When the girls returned they are shunned by their families and their communities. Some had AIDS. Some had such a hard time they returned to prostitution because it was the only way they could make a living.

Nepalese Girl Sold to Brothel in India

Zigor Aldama wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Mermendo Taya left her home in a small rural village after an acquaintance called her from Kathmandu in September 2016. “She told me that some of her friends were looking for waitresses and domestic helpers in Pune [150km from Mumbai, India’s financial capital], and that the pay was good,” Taya, now 20, says. “I was bored in the village and wanted to see the world, so I decided to tag along without even telling my parents that I was leaving.”

“The two women travelled by bus to Nepalgunj, a bustling border city in west Nepal, used a cycle rickshaw to cross the border showing no ID, and continued their journey by train. Once in Pune, they stayed in what appeared to be the sleeping quarters of a beauty salon. “The girl I was travelling with told me it was a temporary arrangement while she sorted out our work,” recalls Taya. [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

“Then her companion disappeared and Taya discovered that she had been sold to a brothel. “The madam told me that I had to repay the 200,000 Indian rupees [US$3,000] she had paid for me,” Taya says, “and that food and lodging would be added to the outstanding amount.” Taya was forced to perform sex work. When she resisted, she was raped. “Clients paid me directly, and then I had to give the madam a commission plus whatever she asked for my living expenses,” Taya explains. She calculated that, with her income, it would take 10 years to repay the debt.

“But Taya was lucky: she was rescued in a raid by Indian police in January last year. “I don’t know how it happened, because the madam used to know when officers were coming and we would hide in a secret underground room,” she says. “Maybe the corrupt policemen had no time to warn her.” In all, Taya spent 2½ months in a brothel.

Nepalese Girl Working at a Brothel in India

Zigor Aldama wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Sharmila Tamang, from the Sindhupalchok district of central Nepal, endured nine months. Tamang, who is now 23, had been married at 16, gave birth to a boy a year later, but could not make ends meet because harvests had been poor. “There were many 14- and 15-year-olds. All had been trafficked from Nepal, Bangladesh and parts of India [...] we were forced to entertain between four and 15 clients a day [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

“A man in our village promised me a job where I could easily save 300,000 [Nepali] rupees [US$2,700] in two years,” she says. “He was well respected, so we believed him and I left for Kolkata. There, another man took me to Delhi and then to Agra, where I was supposed to work as a domestic helper for a family.”

“Instead, Tamang was locked in a building with younger girls. “There were many 14- and 15-year-olds,” she says. “All had been trafficked from Nepal, Bangladesh and parts of India. Five men guarded the place at all times to make sure we didn’t escape. And we were forced to entertain between four and 15 clients a day.” The women were regularly punished. “If I ate too much, they would hit me; if I ate too little, they would hit me too,” Tamang recalls. “But I was most afraid for my son and my family, because I had no contact with them.”

Despite the tight security, she plotted her escape with two other Nepali women confined inside the brothel. “We made a rope from saris and climbed down from a window on the upper floor, where we were locked up,” Tamang says. “I fell and hurt my back, but my friends helped me to reach Delhi.”

Sex Trafficking in Nepal

According to the U.S. Department of State: Nepal is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Nepali women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in Nepal, India, the Middle East, Malaysia, and—to a lesser extent—other Asian countries and Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya. Nepali women and children are subjected to forced labor in Nepal, India, the Middle East, and Asia in the adult entertainment industry. Traffickers use Nepal’s open border with India to transport Nepali women and children to India for sex trafficking, including under the guise of “orchestra dancers,” where girls dance at public functions and men sexually exploit them. [Source: 2020 and 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State ^^]

According to a report from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the estimated number of Nepalis subject to trafficking or attempted trafficking in 2012-13 was 29,000. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime states that, during the 2007-09 period, 36 percent of victims of trafficking were children (33 per cent girls, 3 per cent boys). Among adults, women made up 53 per cent of the total. “We have noticed a substantial increase of trafficking cases to the Middle East and Tibet,” says Anuradha Koirala, founder of Maiti Nepal. “Traffickers use the same modus operandi – the promise of a job for a better life – but globalisation has made it easier to take them further away. We’ve identified cases as far away as Tanzania, although countries in the Persian Gulf and China are the main concern now.” [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

On the Tibetan town of Khasa (the Nepali name for Zhangmu) on the Nepal-China border, Koirala to the South China Morning Post. “A few areas in border towns have opened up for entertainment, mainly for truck drivers linking both countries,” she says, “and Nepalis – who need a visa to enter China – can stay visa-free for the day. But this one-day-stay rule is seldom enforced, so women from Nepal are being held there against their will and used as sex slaves.” Maiti rescued two teenagers, aged 14 and 16, from the area last year. “They were trafficked at the age of six. They have no idea where they lived [before], nor who their parents are, and they speak only Mandarin,” says Koirala.

Manpower agencies or individual employment brokers who engage in fraudulent recruitment practices and impose high fees may facilitate forced labor. Unregistered migrants – including the large number of Nepalis who travel through India or rely on unregistered recruiting agents – are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Nepali women who agree to arranged marriages through Nepali companies to men in China and South Korea may experience fraud and be vulnerable to domestic servitude in which their freedom of movement is restricted. Some government officials reportedly accept bribes to include false information in Nepali identity documents or provide fraudulent documents to prospective labor migrants, a tactic used by unscrupulous recruiters to evade recruitment regulations. [Source: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State, June 2018]

Authorities did not systematically track the total number of victims identified, but did identify 368 victims connected to the 235 investigations initiated during the Nepali fiscal year, compared with 419 victims identified the previous year. Of the 311 NPWCs identified victims, 67 were subjected to sex trafficking, 125 to forced labor, and 119 victims' cases were uncategorized. It was unknown how many of these victims were exploited abroad, although 57 victims identified by CIB were victims of transnational trafficking, primarily in Gulf states. Of the total victims identified, 89 were under age 18 and almost all were female – only four were male. Officials' poor understanding of the crime, a lack of formal SOPs for identification, and victims' reluctance to be identified due to stigma hindered proper and proactive identification, especially among returning male labor migrants who reported exploitation abroad. NGOs continued to report government efforts to identify domestic sex trafficking victims improved. Police increased the number of inspections of Kathmandu adult entertainment businesses and more consistently worked to screen for sex trafficking to avoid penalizing victims for prostitution crimes. When properly identified, victims were not detained, fined, or jailed for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking.

Looking for Sex Trafficking on Borders Between India and Nepal

Reporting from Nepalgunj, a west Nepalese city on the India border, Zigor Aldama wrote in the South China Morning Post: “It’s easy to cross the border between Nepal and India. Too easy. Most of its 1,600 kilometers is marked by simple, 30-centimeter-high concrete piles. There is no wall, no fence, no barbed wire. In fact, some farmers have fields that are part in Nepal and part in India. There is no surveillance infrastructure to make sure people don’t stray across the border and Nepali and Indian passport holders don’t need visas to visit each others’ countries. They don’t even have to carry their passports; an official identification document will do. While an “open border” may facilitate trade and cultural and social exchange, and favour seasonal workers looking for jobs, it also poses a great threat to at-risk women and children. [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

“These dayscrossing the border at Nepalgunj is not as easy as it was because Maiti Nepal (a anti-human trafficking NGO) has established one of its 12 checkpoints there. It is a simple metal shack with two rooms just meters from Indian territory. From 6am until long after sunset, three or four women dressed in blue kurtas patrol the potholed stretch of dusty road, one of the busiest crossing points between the two countries, backed up by police and army personnel. “Our job is to identify vulnerable women and children: those who can be preyed upon by trafficking gangs,” explains Laxmi Singh, who is on patrol. “Whenever we think someone may be at risk, we focus on three things: who is she travelling with, what does she look like, and whether the information she provides can be verified by someone else.”

“Over the day and a half we spend at Maiti Nepal’s checkpoint, it becomes clear that the task is a difficult one. Hundreds of buses, trucks, cars and tricycles cross the border every day. Nepal police sub-inspector K.S. Kathayat admits that they are understaffed and officers lack motivation to stop traffickers. “Maiti’s women have our full support,” he says. “If they find something suspicious, we intervene immediately and coordinate with the Indian police if needed.” Reluctantly, however, Kathayat concedes that the procedures required to extradite people between the two countries – or to involve Interpol – are not carried out once suspects have crossed the border. “Formalities would take too long,” he says.

“During our time at the checkpoint, a few dozen women are stopped and interrogated, and one wonders whether members of an NGO have the legal authority to do so, especially when they prevent people from crossing with no evidence of illegal activity. But nobody seems troubled and everyone does what they are told. The patrol requests that women and girls step down from vehicles. They check IDs, ask where the women are going and why, and demand the telephone numbers of family members if stories are not convincing.”

How Nepalese Girls and Women Are Abducted for the Sex Trade

Zigor Aldama wrote in the South China Morning Post: “It is frequently difficult to tell who is a victim. “Mafias are nothing like in the movies. Women aren’t taken gagged and with their hands tied in the back of trucks,” explains Bishwo Ram Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal. “Most make the trip of their own will because they don’t know someone is cheating them. They may be accompanied by their trafficker or travelling alone, and many are told not to speak to us or to lie in order to avoid scrutiny. They fully believe they are on course to a better life.” “Many elope for different reasons, mostly for love or to escape an arranged marriage,” says Khadka. “But others are on their way to be exploited in Kathmandu’s booming sex trade. [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

Whenever suspicion arises, women are taken to a nearby office for questioning. Three girls in their late teens say they are on a shopping trip to India, but their parents, when called, deny all knowledge. The teenagers look increasingly nervous and one starts to cry. After a brief conversation, Singh turns them back. “We thought they could be going to engage in sex work, but we now think they just want to buy drugs readily available in India,” she says. “It’s not up to me to judge, but under the influence of drugs they are more vulnerable and it’s my duty to impede this kind of situation.”

An hour later, another young woman rings alarm bells. She is travelling to India with an older woman, and their story changes by the minute. Initially, they say they are going shopping for a wedding; then they claim that the younger woman is going to get married in India; finally, a call to the family is made. It transpires that the younger woman is already married in Nepal and her family have no idea who her travelling companion might be. “We suspect the older woman is a trafficker,” says Singh.

“The older woman reacts violently and begins shouting at the Maiti staff. She claims she is saving the youngster from an abusive husband, but shows no proof. The young woman remains silent; she is taken to a room in the shack and her belongings are searched. A policewoman arrives. “Most cases are complex, and we may not clarify this one today,” Singh says. “But it seems that this girl was in danger, and she is no longer.”

Koirala adds that technology has given traffickers an effective platform. “Traffickers have found a new tool for their crimes in social networks like Facebook,” she says. “Girls trust people whom they don’t know and follow their advice. They are easy prey.”

Nepalese Government Complicity in Sex Trafficking

According to the U.S. Department of State: Its laws do not prohibit all forms of forced labor and sex trafficking and it continued to lack standard operating procedures (SOPs) on victim identification and referral to rehabilitation services. Official complicity in trafficking offenses remained a serious problem due to both direct complicity in trafficking crimes as well as negligence. Many government officials continued to lack understanding of trafficking. Officials encouraged migrant workers who experienced exploitation abroad to register cases under the Foreign Employment Act (FEA), which criminalized fraudulent recruitment, rather than notify police of labor exploitation, and prosecutors frequently declined to charge a case under the trafficking law if it had already been charged under the FEA, despite the difference in crimes. The government maintained its policies preventing female migration in several ways, and observers continued to report the revised policies led women to use illegal methods to migrate, which subsequently increased their vulnerability to human trafficking [Source: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State, June 2018] . The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2007 HTTCA criminalized some forms of labor and sex trafficking. The HTTCA criminalized slavery and bonded labor but did not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. It criminalized forced prostitution but, inconsistent with international law, required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Prescribed penalties ranged from 10 to 20 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

Official complicity in trafficking offenses remained a serious problem. NGOs alleged some police and political party leaders were complicit in domestic sex trafficking because of their financial involvement in the adult entertainment sector. Observers alleged some traffickers enjoyed impunity due to personal connections with politicians or by bribing police. Some government officials were reportedly bribed to include false information in genuine Nepali passports or to provide fraudulent documents to prospective labor migrants or foreign employment agents. In August 2017, a parliamentary committee stated due to the negligence or complicity of immigration officials and police, girls and women were able to depart from the international airport without completing the required migrant work exit procedures; the committee stated up to 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers in the Gulf states were working illegally without the proper visa and safeguards. In November 2017, the commission arrested the Director General of DFE and two DFE officials for allegedly attempting to collect a bribe from a foreign employment agency; the three officials were released on bail or their own recognizance and were awaiting trial at the end of the reporting period. In December 2017, police arrested a recently-elected local official for allegedly exploiting two Nepali girls in sex trafficking in India; while the official was released on bail and awaiting trial for this offense, CIB arrested him for a prior trafficking crime for which he had been convicted in absentia and initiated his six-year term of imprisonment.

Efforts to Combat the Sex Slave Trade

There are stiff penalties for child trafficking but the laws are rarely enforced, At some border checkpoints between India and Nepal, former sex slaves keep an eye out for potential traffickers taking women out of the country. Between 1997 and 2000, 70 suspected traffickers with 270 girls were caught,

According to the U.S. Department of State: The Nepal Police Women’s Cells (NPWC) had female officers in all 77 districts to investigate crimes against women and girls, including trafficking, but not all district offices were fully operational. Law enforcement did not proactively identify trafficking cases, and in many of the referrals it received, the alleged trafficking crimes had occurred more than one year prior, which undermined evidence collection and prosecution efforts. Moreover, police and prosecutors remained reliant on victim testimony for successful cases. Victims often did not want to assist in cases against their perpetrators because the perpetrators were family friends or relatives. [Source: 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report — Nepal, United States Department of State]

ABC Nepal is a private including that runs a shelter and training center for former prostitutes and sex slaves. The girls are taught marketable skills such as candle-making, knitting, goat raising and mushroom growing. When they have finished their training they are given loans of around $100 to start businesses. The charity also tries to find good husbands for the women. The following song is part of a campaign to keep girls on their toes: "Don’t listen to the sweet talk of scoundrels or be lured by dreams of foreign land. In Bombay you'll be sold into prostitution. You'll be beaten, raped and you'll contact AIDS."

Elizabeth Schroeder wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: The Human Trafficking Control Act of 1986 prohibits selling persons in the country or abroad, and provides for penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for traffickers. However, there are many social and legal obstacles to successful prosecution, and convictions are rare. Since border guards commonly accept bribes to allow contraband and trafficked girls in or out of the country, many professionals are pessimistic about significantly reducing the trade without true government and legal support. [Source: Elizabeth Schroeder, M.S.W., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, ^^]

“There are more than 40 NGOs in Nepal combating trafficking, several of which have rehabilitation and skills-training programs for trafficking victims. These groups commonly use leaflets, comic books, films, speaker programs, and skits — short plays with a few actors — to convey anti-trafficking messages and education. Some organizations involved in the rehabilitation of trafficking survivors state that they have been threatened and their offices have been vandalized because of their activities.” ^^

Maiti Nepal

Maiti is an organisation that supports trafficked women. It helps them find their families and arranges transportation home, provides shelter for those who needed and tries to stop trakkicking at the border. Zigor Aldama wrote in the South China Morning Post: “From its establishment in 1993 until the end of 2017, Maiti Nepal played a role in the incarceration of 1,571 traffickers and mediated in 10,665 cases of gender-based violence. It intercepted 36,045 women suspected of being susceptible to trafficking, most of them – more than 1,000 last year alone – at the Nepalgunj border post. [Source: Zigor Aldama, South China Morning Post, July 15, 2018]

“Maiti Nepal has also established checkpoints at bus stations across the country. We travel to the busy crossroads of Bharatpur, a key transport hub linking the rural west of Nepal and Kathmandu, and close to the tourism hotspot of Chitwan National Park. There, many girls – some perhaps just 10 years old – can be seen travelling alone or with barely older friends in rusty buses. Maiti’s staff check them all, despite complaints from other travellers, angry at being held up. They also hand out leaflets explaining the tricks employed by traffickers and warning about tempting job offers, featuring drawings because many vulnerable women are illiterate. “If it looks too good to be true, maybe it is,” says one.

At the prevention home run by Maiti in the central Nepalese district of Nawalparasi and sponsored by Unicef and Spanish NGO Ayuda en Acción, the main task is to help vulnerable women before it’s too late. “We identify troubled girls at risk and empower them with training,” says director Maya Chhetri. “Not only do we seek to give them the means to earn a living, we also want to turn them into activists who fight trafficking back in their home towns and carry out campaigns against women’s discrimination or child marriage. We believe this is the only way to spread change where it’s most needed, because we can only do so much with the means available. We hope they will warn others against being overly trusting.”

Efforts to Improve the Lives of Badis

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Even Badis who have pulled themselves up in society give credit to prostitution. College-educated Nirmal Nepali, president of Dang's Badi Concerned Society, is among the few literate Badis here. His schooling was financed by his eldest sister, who worked for a decade as a prostitute from a room in the family home, encouraged by their parents who welcomed the income. “I owe everything to them," he said. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2011]

“Raising the community's sense of self-worth is a challenge in itself. Many Badi families welcome newborn girls for their earning potential, and some fathers even quit their menial jobs to live off their daughters once they're old enough to enter the "family business." The government grants aren't always dispensed fairly, Nepali said, with non-Badi officials often giving the money to their relatives and friends rather than to the neediest. Of the 1,200 Badi families in his district, only 295 have received stipends, he estimated. “The real beneficiaries aren't Badi," said his wife, Mira. "Or if they are, well-connected people get it rather than the single mothers, young girls, who really need it."

“Bina Badi, whose name is tattooed on her left fist, grew up in a dirt-poor family in which all four daughters became prostitutes. At one point, each of them married and seemed to free themselves. But they soon divorced and drifted back into prostitution. Their drum-maker father and housewife mother lived off their daughters' earnings, his craftsmanship largely unappreciated in the rush for electronics and cheap drum imports from Bangladesh. Bina Badi averages three or four customers a day. “We don't want to continue, but if we don't, we can't eat," she said. "The government should help us find other jobs."

“Although society is slowly changing, discrimination against Badis remains profound, she said, including prohibitions against using the same village pump, entering other people's homes, brushing against them. “For many years, I thought it was my fate to be a prostitute," she said. "Now I realize this system wasn't made by God. It was made by man."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (, Nepal Government National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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