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Sex Trafficking, Reintegration Of Returnee Victims and Role Of NGOs, In Nepal.


Trafficking is considered as one of the worst consequences of transnational migration and as a modern-day slavery (Laczko & Danailova-Trainor 2009). International Labor Organization’s 2001 statistics indicates that approximately 12,000 Nepali women have been trafficked inside and outside of the Asia to work in sexual industry, annually. Although both sex worker and prostitute refers to the person who sells sex for money, sex worker includes men, women and transgender people, all who works in different environment including homes, bars, brothels and streets, while prostitute refers to people who voluntarily or involuntarily enter in to the sex industry, and prostitution face ethical judgment because it is perceived as illegal and a shameful act (Shah 2004; Avert).
Women trafficking and prostitution have a bidirectional relationship; prostitution is the crucial reason for women trafficking, and women trafficking ends up in exploitative prostitution (Adhikari 2011). In case of Nepal, most of the trafficked girls have been sold to Indian sex industry, which is estimated to have around three to ten million prostitutes and sex workers from several different Asian countries, serve around ten million clients per day, and annually generates around $3.6 billion (Simkhada 2008). According to the Asian Development Bank’s estimation, the enormous Indian sex industry has more than 200 000 Nepali girls and women (NHRC - UNIFEM - ISS Project 2002- 2003). As Nepali girls and women are one of the most vulnerable victims of sex trafficking in South Asia (Snaghera 1999), this paper analyses reasons behind the proliferating number of trafficked girls and women in Nepal, challenges of the returnee sex trafficked victims, and contribution of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for a better reintegration of returnees with the society.

Back ground and causes of trafficking Nepal

Prostitution and sex work are not new phenomena for Nepal as this country has been introduced to prostitution and sex work in the earlier days because of its Hindu religious practices (Adhikari 2011). For instance, similar to the animals offering tradition in Hinduism, poor parents offered young girls to temples; these women were bought by the rich, and expected to serve as sexual objects from their early puberty, and were strictly prohibited from getting in to a marital relationship (Adhikari 2011). Later, these vulnerable women continue living as prostitutes. Additionally, during Rana’s regime, in between 1896 - 1950, girls were forced to be maids at rich people’s houses and were sexually exploited (Adhikari 2011). These traditions attracted inside and outside traffickers, but they did not have chance to enter into the country until the democratic moment in early 1950s (Adhikari 2011). Unstable political situation due to democratic moments and desire of poor Nepali women to mingle with the outer world led girls and women to get into the hands of traffickers. Within 1960s, trafficking and prostitution was stably established, and drastically increased over the next two decades (Adhikari 2011). Constant and stable proliferation of girls and women trafficking became the center of attraction for state, policy makers and international community only in 1980s (Adhikari 2011), which indirectly forced government of Nepal to include anti trafficking laws and orders in state policies.
Girls and women trafficking in Nepal have an intersectional aspect based on ethnicity, age, economic status and living condition. In the earlier days, geography and ethnicity appeared as a barrier for the traffickers because ethnicity in Nepal was divided based on the geographical location, whether the place is a hilly, valley or flat area. For instance, around 1960s, girls and women from Tamang community, who lived in the mountainous region that are adjacent to India, were more vulnerable for sex trafficking (Adhikari 2011). In contrast, at present due to rapid urbanization and increased movements within villages, women from more than 30 districts have become vulnerable to sex trafficking (Adhikari 2011). Also, traffickers target young, unmarried and illiterate women, especially who are at their teen age, and below the age of 25 (Simkhada 2008). Statistics indicate that around forty percent of sex trafficked are children, under the age of fourteen, and victims’ average age falls in between 14 to 16 (ONRT 2006 – 2007). In addition to ethnicity and age, poverty and gender discrimination play a vital role in being trafficked. Causes of trafficking are mainly categorized into two, root causes and immediate causes (Adhikari 2011). Root causes are the fundamental structure of the society, such as gender based discriminations in patriarchal society, never ending poverty and unemployment, traditional family prostitution practiced by few ethnic groups, and false beliefs about having sex with virgin to cure HIV/AIDS (Adhikari 2011; JournAIDS). The immediate causes are the reasons that arouse during life course, such as illiteracy, early school dropout, forced marriage, divorce, and family dysfunction due to economic instability (Adhikari 2011). Girls and women are provoked by the root and immediate causes, and wanted to live a better life. The arduous desire for a luxurious life in cities finally leads them to be caught in the hands of traffickers, and be prostitutes in Indian brothels.
Traffickers make use of root and immediate causes, and their activities are tremendously increasing due to social and political situation of Nepal and India. Having too much of trust on close relatives and friends creates a social situation for women to be trafficked because most of the time, traffickers, known as dalal or dalai, are the close relatives of the girls, including step father, cousins, uncles, aunties, neighbors and friends (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008; ONRT 2006-2007 ; NHRC - UNIFEM - ISS Project 2002- 2003) and have unique techniques to recruit young girls, such as false job promises, fraudulent marriages, visit to other relatives in cities and abduction (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). For instance, when poor young girl is in a miserable situation, cousin pretends to show sympathy towards her, and promised to find a well paid job in carpet factories in cities, or do fraudulent marriage to make the girl trust him (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). Later, the cousin convinces the girl to travel with him to India, so that he can help her (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). Generally, on the way to India, they stop in a restaurant to have a drink or snack, in which the cousin mixes a drug that makes the girl unconscious and sell her to brothel owner (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). The open border between India and Nepal is highly contributing to the increasing trend of trafficking from Nepal to India (NHRC - UNIFEM - ISS Project 2002- 2003; Snaghera 1999). The open border and the absence of visa or passport system to cross this international border highly supports traffickers to traffic girls and women from Nepal, without any security problems, and to sell the women in the Indian brothels. In addition to the absence of security threat while crossing the border, in villages, traffickers are highly supported and protected by local politicians, police and law makers (Simkhada 2008), as these elites are economically and sexually benefiting from trafficking. When people, who are supposed to protect girls and women, involve in criminal activities and protect the criminals, there is not any effective way to implement anti trafficking laws. Thus, though both India and Nepal have anti trafficking policies, and laws and orders, they are not implemented or active due to the corrupted politics and politicians (Simkhada 2008). In addition to these corrupted politics, people in the community, especially girls and women, are not aware of sex trafficking (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). This lack of awareness about sex trafficking is a plus point for traffickers to exploit young girls and women. Even worse situation arises by the trafficked women, who are thrown out of brothels at their forties as they are unable to attract customers, instead of returning back to their home country, they start their own brothels or become a trafficker (Simkhada 2008). These are few social and political reasons behind the increasing trend of sex trafficking in Nepal.

Returnee Victims Challenges Contribution of NGOs To Tackle These Challenges

Returning back to their own country or village has several negative consequences for returnee sex trafficked victims due to Nepal’s social and family structure. The impact of negative consequences can be indicated through rehabilitation centers’ records that state even though there are about 200 000 women have been annually trafficked to India from Nepal, since 1996, only about 15,000 people have been reported in the rehabilitation centers, and merely hundreds of people escape or rescued from brothels (Adhikari 2011). As there have been large number of women trafficked and a very few number of them have been returned or rescued, NGOs in Nepal have initiated several anti trafficking activities that includes identifying traffickers in borders to reintegrating trafficked victims with their families. Generally these NGOs’ anti trafficking activities are known as 4R methods; in which the 4 R stands for Rescue, Repatriation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (ONRT 2006-2007). With the help of legal system, nongovernmental organizations in Nepal and India carry out raids in Indian brothels and rescue trafficked women, provide immediate shelter and punish traffickers and brothel owners (Simkhada 2008; ONRT 2006 – 2007;).The success of rescuing trafficked women is one of the best part of transnational activities, as both Nepal and Indian NGOs, carry out raids with the support of Indian police. Maiti Nepal, ABC Nepal, Shakti Samurha, and Asha Nepal, are few NGOs that are successfully working on anti trafficking activities (ONRT 2006-2007). The following section will analyze trafficked women’s reasons behind reluctance to return back to their home countries or villages, and the role of NGOs, especially Maiti Nepal’s activities, in tackling these issues.
Even if the women are suffering in the Indian Brothels, they do not want to be rescued police raids. One of the main reasons is the media coverage, and sexual, physical and verbal harassments by the police in prisons (Adhikari 2011). In prison, police carry outs free rapes and take advantage of these rescued women’s vulnerable position (Adhikari 2011). Generally, women who are rescued only by the police have high possibility of again being caught in the hands of the traffickers or end up in prostitution (Adhikari 2011). Therefore, NGOs that are working in anti trafficking activities sent few members of their organization with police, when they are in the mission of rescuing. In case of Nepali women in Indian brothels, NGOs carry out transnational action. For instance, when Maiti Nepal gets any information regarding women trafficked to India, they first contact an NGOs that works for anti trafficking in India to ensure the validity of the information, and makes a secret plan to rescue the women (Maiti Nepal 2011). Based on the plan, members from Maiti Nepal go to India, and with the support of Indian police and the Indian NGO, they rescue the women (Maiti Nepal 2011). In addition, to prevent women from being the victims of trafficking, Maiti Nepal has transit checkpoints, in which Maiti Nepal trainees who already experienced trafficking stays and identifies traffickers (Maiti Nepal 2011). This is one of the examples of transnational anti trafficking activities carry out by NGOs to prevent sex trafficking of girls and women from Nepal to India.
Even if sex trafficked girls and women rescued and returned home, victims face psychological, financial and social challenges. Psychological challenges arise due to isolation, low self esteem and low self confidence (Adhikari 2011;UN Thailand). Returnees suffer from anxiety disorders and depression, and these mental illness leads to incurable traumas (Adhikari 2011;UN Thailand). Additionally, these returnee victims face problems of re-adopting with their village life immediately because they were deeply assimilated into city life styles, dressing styles and make ups, and food and drug habits (UN Thailand), thus, pressure to readopt with village life negatively affects returnee victims mental state. Also, returnee victims are afraid, and have great conscious of society’s perspective about them, especially police and local politicians because of lacking legal documents and the elites’ support for traffickers (UN Thailand). All these objective and subjective perspectives about their past and its impacts on the present life creates psychological problems to the returnee sex trafficked victims. Thus, NGOs carryout self-esteem building activities, provide economical and educational skills to increase victims’ self esteem and self confidence, motivate and aspire them for a better life, and develop self identity so that the returnees can easily reintegrate with their communities (Maiti Nepal 2011; Adhikari 2011). For instance, Maiti Nepal conducts psychosocial counseling, psychotherapy sessions and provides psychological care for the returnee victims who are in prevention homes (Maiti Nepal 2011).
In addition to psychological impacts, returnee women face financial problems. As the crucial purpose for crossing the international border was improving their personal and family’s financial status, returnee victims feel ashamed to return home without money (UN Thailand). This reluctance to return home is highly encouraged by few incidences, in which returnees were easily accepted by the family and society if and only they have enough money (Simkhada 2008). Due to these incidences, even though family accepts the returnee victims, returnees are in a dilemma without knowing whether their family is accepting them because of love or the expectation of money from them. Thus, returnees, who do not have money, consider themselves as burden for their family as the family has to spend large amount of money for returnees’ medication and to get new legal documents (UN Thailand). Also, the Nepali village communities have limited job opportunities, in which girls are expected to work hard, but paid less (UN Thailand). Most of the returnee state that they are incapable of doing hard works as they are unskilled, illiterate and sick (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). To tackle sex trafficked returnee victims financial problems, NGOs provide skill development training, carryout traditional income generating activities and create job opportunities. For instance, Maiti Nepal provides vocational income generating trainings such as sewing, candle making, fabric painting, tailoring, handloom weaving and small scale entrepreneurship by introducing micro credit system among returnee women groups (Maiti Nepal 2011).
Even though the returnees overcome psychological and financial challenges, they suffer the most by social stigmatization. Villagers think that returnees will take some other girls with them for prostitution, so consider these returnees as a thread for the other young women in the village (UN Thailand). In addition to this unwanted fear, lack of knowledge and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases made Nepali villagers to believe that all sex trafficked returnees are affected by HIV/ AIDS (UN Thailand). Thus, villagers think that even talking to them will spread the disease, so they isolate these returnee women. Not only isolating, they gossips about returnees, and stigmatize them as Randi or Bombaywali, slangs for prostitute (UN Thailand). Also, due to the extended family structure in villages, stigmatization of returnee victims questions their whole family’s reputation (UN Thailand) as women are seen as the boundary lines of family’s reputation (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). The concept of women being the boundary line of a family’s reputation is highly influenced in a married woman’s life; for instance, if a married woman is trafficked and returned home, she is forced to give divorce by her mother in law and the society as the husband’s family does not want to spoil their family’s reputation (UN Thailand). As marriage is considered an important identity for a woman, divorces put returnee women into an identity crisis. Also, because of lacking suitability for marriages, returnee women face challenge regarding citizen ship and property rights (UN Thailand; Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). To tackle the issues of citizenships and property rights, returnees are indirectly forced by the society and family to get into a marital relationship, even the man is old and abusive (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). Later in their marriage life, these women are verbally, physically and sexually abused by their husband by indicating their past life as prostitution (Adhikari 2011; Simkhada 2008). In order to increase social awareness and to reduce social stigmatization for the returnees, NGOs conduct awareness programs regarding sex trafficking and sexually transmitted disease (Simkhada 2008). For example, Maiti Nepal advocates and conducts mass community awareness campaigns to create social pressure against trafficking, and trains school teachers and children to fight against trafficking of children, girls and women (Maiti Nepal). Awareness among school children is one of the important aspects to control sex trafficking as the awareness will reduce the number of trafficked women and traffickers in the future. Additionally, Maiti Nepal mobilized former trainees to create awareness about sex trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases in their respective areas (Maiti Nepal 2011). Through door to door awareness, these women were able to reach large number of women in their villages (Maiti Nepal 2011). The more the villagers are aware of sex trafficking and sexually transmitted disease, the more the deduction in social stigmatization for returnee women and the number of trafficked girls and women.
In addition to rescuing women, providing psychological, financial and social supports for the returnees, NGOs assist reintegration process (Maiti Nepal 2011 ; Simkhada 2008; ONRT 2006 – 2007). Because of the NGOs’ systematic work on anti trafficking, from rescuing to reintegration, anti trafficking NGOs in Nepal are well supported and highly encouraged by donor countries and other international organizations(Simkhada 2008). The reward by CNN for Maiti Nepal’s founder as the “Hero of the Year” in 2010, is an exemplary example of international recognition of these anti trafficking NGOs (Maiti Nepal).
In conclusion, Nepali girls and women are more vulnerable to trafficking to sex industry in India because of geographical, social, economical and political reasons. Even if they are in miserable situation in Indian brothels, they do not want to return to their own countries as they are afraid of psychological, financial and social challenges. At present due to the active involvement of several anti trafficking NGOs in Nepal and India, trafficked women are willing to return to their countries. Also, NGOs’ high contribution on creating social awareness regarding sex trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases decreases social stigmatization for returnee women. If NGOs’ active and diligent work continues, Nepali women will no longer be considered as vulnerable to sex trafficking.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Umaiyal's picture

This research paper was

This research paper was written for Migration course at Asian University For Women.

kliszk's picture

Thanks for all the

Thanks for all the information and history you have shared, Umaiyal. It is very helpful in better understanding the situation in Nepal and South Asia.

Keep writing!

wanja's picture

Mind Boggling figures indeed

Hi, it is really sad what is happening to these girls. Worse, the more the number of girls being abused rises, the blurred their faces become. Thank you for thrusting this issue back onto the agenda.
Stopping all forms of violence against women is crucial for peace to prevail in the world. An injustice to one woman, girl or child is an injustice to us all.
Let us call evil by its rightful name and shame the devil.

Thanks again!


Thank you for the detailed information regarding the trafficking against women. It is very sad to see and hear about what women go through, let alone become stigmatized in society against morals established by males. What is the next step for women and society? Perhaps a shelter can be set up for women who can come and live in once they return home?? Perhaps their family can avoid the issues faced by society. Also, the key is ensure the wellbeing of these women who return home. They need to be taught that they are worth living in society, and what has happened to them is not their fault. In addition, you need to educate society about what goes on with trafficking, and teach them why women are exploited. It is not always their families but society that causes pain upon them. Educating the mass is the probably the biggest challenge and the most needed. I wish you the best of luck.

Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC

Umaiyal's picture

Thank you Ms.Bina Patel

You are exactly right Ms. Bina Patel. I think some NGOs, especially Maiti Nepal, has been following almost all the ideas you have suggested. Maiti Nepal has been providing shelter, skill training and creating economic opportunities for the victims. Also, Maiti Nepal has been creating awareness among the villagers, but as we all know it is really hard to change the social constructions and gender norms in villages. As you stated, providing education is the most needed as well as challenging task for developing country.

Once again thank you very much for your thoughtful comments.


binapatel33's picture

My pleasure...the key is for

My pleasure...the key is for you to create a local group in your community. Start with women who you know will support you and stand by you...slowly you can help them become strong, independent and as your group grows larger, begin to speak out for gender equality. You will get more support for it. I would love to come and speak for your village sometime this upcoming year. Where are you located? Let's begin through skype. My skype name is: Bina.patel33

We have to make the women feel as though they matter, they are strong and their voices are heard...this will give them inner strength to move forward with attracting more women from local surrounding villages and cities. Once your group becomes large, then you can begin by stating your opinions in local newspapers, etc for gender equality.

Is violence used against women in the village you in live in??


Kind Regards,
Bina Patel
hc Mediate, LLC

Umaiyal's picture

Than you!

Thank you Ms.Kristen for you comments

Umaiyal's picture

Thank you Ms. Wanaja

Yes you are right. "An injustice to one woman, girl or child is an injustice to us all." Thus, its each and every one of us responsibility to end violence against women or girl around the world. Once again, thank you very much for your valuable comments!

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