The Injustice of a Lax Government: Sex Trafficking in Nepal
The Story of Buna
When Buna was a young girl her mother died. Her father remarried, but she would never have a mother-figure again to love her. Instead, Buna’s upbringing was dominated by abuse. Realizing that she would have to go out on her own for any chance of survival and independence, Buna left her home and opened a tea shop as a young adult. She sold popular Nepali tea for pennies per cup. In her humble shop, a man frequently visited her. As he would talk to Buna, he became more and more interested in her pursuit for a happier life with greater opportunity. One day, the man told Buna about the wide availability of jobs in India. Excited to make a greater living for herself, Buna travelled with the man across the Nepal-India border. When she arrived in India, the very man she trusted had sold her to a brothel in Mumbai. When Buna refused to engage in prostitution, she was beaten over and over again. Buna still refused. At one point during her first years, she was forced to watch a young girl be brutally beaten and thrown out on the streets. Buna never saw the little girl again. Like any girl who refused to engage in prostitution, Buna knew what would happen to her if she continued to refuse. She would face constant brutality and violence. Some girls had even been thrown out a window to their death. With no hope for escape, Buna had no choice but to cooperate with the pimps. Because she was forced to have sexual intercourse with men several times a day, she developed an illness that made it impossible for her to “service” men. Eventually, just like the young girl, she was discarded on the streets of Mumbai. Unwilling to take responsibility of her, the Indian Government sent Buna back to Nepal, where she woke up in a hospital in Patan. There, she was found to be HIV positive.
Nepal’s Depravity that Makes Women and Young Girls Susceptible to Sex TraffickingSadly, Buna’s story is all too common in Nepal, a place of little opportunity for economic empowerment within the country. As a result, over 100,000 women cross into India every year looking for work. In many cases, sex trafficking “brokers” go into remote villages to speak to parents of young girls, offering their children either promising marriages or jobs in particular industries, such as tourism in Kathmandu or India. After parents consent to sending their daughters away for a brighter future, the daughters are deceived and sold into sexual slavery. Sadly, however, some parents are aware of their daughters’ fate and choose to profit from their exploitation. The average age of young girls is from 10-18 years old. Although statistics vary, social workers and NGOs have determined that an estimate of about 200,000 women and girls are currently working in brothels in India.
Existing LawsIn comparison to other countries in Asia, Nepal has rather stringent laws against human trafficking. The 1986 Traffic in Human Control Act provides that in the event that a woman being taken outside of Nepal by any person other than a close relative and who alleges that she is being taken away to be sold or placed into prostitution, the accused must prove that he/she is not transporting the woman for such purposes. In Section 5 of this law, anyone who is in knowledge of individuals engaged or about to be engaged in trafficking may file a complaint with the police. Unfortunately, the 1986 Act has been largely ineffective. The procedural requirements surrounding Section 5 involve complex and prolonged mechanisms of report authentication, making the process of reporting trafficking highly impractical. This is because once a complaint is made, it is sent to the nearest district court, where the court determines whether the complaint has reasonable ground to justify action. Only until the court makes this determination does the police conduct the necessary investigations into the allegation –even if the allegation was made by the victim herself. Another issue that the Act fails to specify is the term, “close relatives.” Not only does the Act lack a formal definition, but it also assumes that family members cannot be traffickers, which in many instances is not the case. It is furthermore important to note that women in most cases are led across the border on false pretenses and are unaware that they are being led into prostitution instead of a promised job opening. Because women don’t know that they’re being trafficked when crossing borders, this Act is limited in usefulness.
The Foreign Employment Act of 1985 is another attempt at controlling the abuse and trafficking of women. The Act requires employment agencies that recruit workers for foreign jobs to be licensed. It also prohibits foreign employment of women and minors without the permission of the government and his/her guardians. This attempt would prove to be utterly ineffective because of the lack of security checkpoints along the border. Despite its intentions, this legal initiative ultimately negates basic human rights, particularly pertaining to the freedom of movement. Furthermore, this preferential target on the migration and employment of women undermines the government’s effort to promote women’s equality under the Constitution.
The InjusticeWhile the injustice is utterly apparent in the thousands of women and girls who have been sold into sexual slavery, the greatest injustice expands to all women in Nepal. Over the course of the past 30 years, Nepal has yet to see any significant progress in its trafficking prevention endeavors. This is largely because the Nepali Government has made little effort in addressing this ever-increasing issue. In 2013, the Government of Nepal initiated 375 prosecutions against human trafficking with only 119 convictions. In this same year, a fourteen-person department was established within the Central Investigative Bureau to take on trafficking investigations. Not only has the Government shown minimal commitment to the epidemic of trafficked victims through the small number of investigators, but its laxness is also evident by the absence of any specialized, trafficking-specific training for the investigators. Even though Nepal has strict laws against trafficking, its ineffectiveness in conjunction with little to no government support leaves survivors hopeless in the unlikelihood of achieving justice.
What Needs to Be Done
What also makes the Government of Nepal responsible for this heinous and widespread injustice is the fact that it has yet to take all available and possible measures to fight against sex-trafficking. Of these measures is the United Nations TIP Protocol, which Nepal has yet to ratify. The Protocol is a collective effort supplemented by the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. This convention serves as the main international mechanism because of the fact that it is the first legally binding instrument with a uniform definition on trafficking in persons. The significance of an agreed definition is that it allows the facilitation of a “convergence in national approaches.” While Nepal may lack the resources to take on the full burden of the trafficking epidemic, international cooperation can help illegalize trafficking in a real and proactive way.
There is so much that can be done with life-changing impacts for the women of Nepal. As undergraduate students living in a privileged country, it is important to equip ourselves with the knowledge and training to be successful in our respective careers. It is perhaps even more important that we have a reason for doing the things we do. By becoming aware and learning what goes on in the world, we can become responsible citizens not just in our own society, but in the international community. How much would it matter to someone in Nepal, someone like Buna, if they knew that there was someone on the other side of the world who cared about their injustice?
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