Traffickers exploit increased mobility of underage girls

Sixteen-year-old Sushma does not want to reveal her true identity for fear that the traffickers who sold her into the notorious brothel area of Kamathipura in Mumbai, India, could track her down and kill her.



"I should have listened to my village schoolteacher who told me not to be taken in by false promises of a job abroad," she told IRIN, expressing regret that she had left her village in Banke, nearly 600km southwest of Kathmandu, without even informing her parents.



"There are so many innocent village girls who have been lured by traffickers with false promises of earning a lot of money in a foreign country," said Sushma.



Anti girl-trafficking activists have asked the local police authorities, especially those stationed near the open Nepal-Indian border, to be on the lookout for any young underage girls leaving the country.



In the last week alone a prominent local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Maiti Nepal, intercepted around 15 girls, half of whom were underage. "They were all carrying fake passports and didn't even know where they were travelling to," said activist Keshab Koirala from Maiti Nepal in Banke.



Maiti Nepal and other NGOs like the Women's Rehabilitation Centre are actively raising awareness of the dangers of trafficking but the traffickers can be persuasive: "I trusted the man who came to help me but I didn't know he was tricking me," said Fudoma Sherpa, a 15-year-old girl who was saved by Maiti Nepal at the border near Nepalgunj in Banke District. The alleged trafficker is in hiding, according to activists.



Despite measures by the government and NGOs to protect girls from being trafficked, the situation has barely changed, according to activists, who said hundreds of Nepalese girls still get trafficked to India every year where they are forced into prostitution.



NGOs suspect that one of the reasons for the steady number of trafficked girls is that mobility restrictions imposed by the recent armed conflict in Nepal now no longer exist. During that period young girls could not easily leave the villages due to the Maoist rebels who controlled the movement of people. The traffickers are able to exploit this situation, they say.



Particularly vulnerable are girls who have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to growing political violence in southern Nepal's densely populated Terai region.



How the traffickers operate



According to Maiti Nepal, traffickers have been luring girls into prostitution by offering them fake jobs in Gulf countries and southeast Asia. The NGO says most of the vulnerable girls are under 16.



Investigations by the NGO have revealed that the Nepalese brothel owners in India use their strong networks at village and city level in Nepal to ensure a steady supply of girls. The local traffickers get a cut from the brothel owners.



Young Nepalese girls are sold at a high price to the biggest brothel owners. One of the most notorious brothel owners was released a few years ago due to her political connections, which proved that traffickers get political protection, according to Maiti Nepal.



nn/ar/cb