Human trafficking can be understood in terms of barriers. If barriers between nations are not strong and people move too freely, traffickers have an easier time moving victims; if protective barriers are not present in the form of laws and ordinances that protect the poor and women, entire populations are left vulnerable to the greed of organized crime. And for a sex buyer, only the flimsiest privacy — a parked vehicle, even a curtain — is needed to shield the seedy act of purchasing sex from another human being.
Nepal is a place where some walls need to be built, and others need to be torn down. It is a place where trafficked victims are easily transported to other countries, or sold for sex in barely-private venues.
One of the poorest nations of the world, a quarter of the population of Nepal is below the poverty line, and three quarters of the population make a living through farming.
Nepal and India have had open trade relations, as well as a unique border where residents from either country may cross a line that has been almost entirely deregulated. An open border means that many Nepalese routinely travel in and out of India to either find work or sell goods. As a result, Nepal has one of the highest migration rates of any country in the world.
Experts estimate that nearly ten thousand women each year are trafficked into India’s burgeoning sex industry. The open border, intended to stimulate trade, happens to be a perfect arrangement for sex trafficking. And as with all trafficking, victims are shuttled to sex markets to meet the demand for sex.
Nepal has a trafficking statute, but it doesn’t work. There are too many holes, from the definition of victims to police that are wont to turn a blind eye. Sometimes corrupt police even tip off brothels to raids whereupon the women are shuffled into secret underground rooms. After all, brothel victims who are interviewed will often say that politicians and policemen frequent the brothels as customers.
Currently, India and Nepal have no extradition agreement for human traffickers which means it is very difficult to prosecute the traffickers themselves.
The average income in Nepal is just $490 per year, according to the World Bank, low even by comparison to other countries in the South Asia region. Half of the population is unemployed. Prostitution, economically speaking, is profitable. A woman selling her body can make more in a month than a farmer can in a year.
But women are not typically trafficked by strangers: often they are sold by their own family members. Similar to the human trafficking crisis in Thailand or Moldova, poor women and girls are the most vulnerable. Recruiters often troll impoverished villages for victims, promising job opportunities, then selling them into prostitution. The traffickers exploit the poverty, even the hunger, of families when they offer to take their daughters elsewhere for better work.
In city centers like Kathmandu, the usual fronts for prostitution are everywhere: dance clubs, massage parlors, and hotels. But one sort of establishment has been the center of debate and controversy in recent years: the cabin restaurant.
Some young girls end up working in what are known as “cabin restaurants.” These dingy haunts serve food to patrons in booths that can conveniently be converted into private rooms simply by drawing a curtain across the front. Behind the curtain lurks a nightmare for many girls: they are bombarded by continual sexual advances. Ultimately they acquiesce and begin to prostitute themselves.
Though statutes have been passed that force cabin restaurants to take down their curtains, as in any industry, it’s all about who you know. Restaurants in good standing with local law enforcement are sometimes permitted to leave the curtains up, which means the abuse continues.
- Pray that God would raise up righteous legislation that would increase the conviction of traffickers in Nepal.
- Pray for a moral revolution among sex buyers in Kathmandu that would dry up the demand for prostitution.
- Ask God to raise up recovery homes in Kathmandu that would help restore victims and allow them to re-enter society.