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NEPAL: Peace Won’t Stop Human Trafficking – Official

Marty Logan

KATHMANDU, Sep 14 2006 (IPS) - An end in sight to Nepal’s bloody, 10-year internal conflict is not necessarily good news for those fighting the growing problem of trafficking in girls and women.

Tens of thousands of people displaced during the Maoist insurgency are expected to return home if the current peace talks succeed. But once in their villages, many Nepalis will soon be looking for ways to get out, making them vulnerable to traffickers, says an official tackling the problem.

“Trafficking will increase. Because internally displaced people will go home and realise what they are missing because they have seen life in the city. So again they will want to find a way to leave,” Padma Mathema, national rapporteur on trafficking in women and children, told IPS in an interview, Wednesday.

Since April’s “people’s movement” forced King Gyanendra to revive the lower house of parliament, Maoist and government leaders have been conducting an agonisingly slow peace process that looks extremely fragile but is holding. It is supposed to lead to elections to a constituent assembly that will draft a new “inclusive” constitution for this nation of 25 million people.

If peace is maintained, Nepali women and girls will also be returning to lives in the village where most domestic work and responsibilities fall on them and where paid job opportunities are few, other reasons they might start looking for ways out, added Mathema, whose office is part of the National Human Rights Commission.

“The long-term solution to trafficking in women and girls lies in sustained economic growth …by implementing effective tools of poverty alleviation and universal education,” says a report released by the rapporteur’s office, Tuesday.

The study, ‘Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, in Nepal, 2005’, points out that the already multi-faceted scourge of trafficking has grown more complex in a world where villagers now have access to information about jobs in national and international centres and access to local transport to launch their journeys, which sometimes end badly.

“Since employment opportunities in urban centres are also not easy, there is every possibility of being unemployed and becoming easy prey to traffickers. The traffickers sell a dream of good income in carpet and garment factories and the entertainment sector,” adds the report.

Entertainment usually means working in so-called dance or cabin restaurants in the capital Kathmandu and other cities, where sex is not openly for sale but always in the air, says the report.

Men also are trafficked – lured to a centre by the prospect of a certain job and then kept in exploitative work situations.

The report estimates that 60 percent of trafficking from and within this South Asian nation is for sexual purposes and 40 percent is to supply workers for labour, such as toiling in garment factories.

“Trafficking for various purposes other than sexual ones still needs to be addressed strategically…the lack of a definition has created confusion in formulating acts, plans and policies,” it adds.

Roughly 10,000 women and girls are said to be trafficked to India for sex work every year, a trade with a long history. But today, Nepal’s giant southern neighbour has also become a transit point for shipping women to: Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai, Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong, says the report.

Nepal has no statistics on how many women who migrate for legitimate work are actually trafficked and then exploited, said Mathema.

The past decade of fighting certainly produced fertile conditions for trafficking. “Women and girls from various parts of the country started working in hotels and restaurants in urban centres,” says the report.

“Studies show that (these places) have turned into ‘contact centres’ for traffickers,” who no longer have to travel to villages to find victims.

As many as 500 children a day were fleeing to India to escape fighting between Maoist rebels and security forces, adds the report, where they were also vulnerable.

Brothel owners in India’s largest cities have an insatiable demand for new workers that is fuelled by incredible profits, concluded a study released in 2005. Owners in Mumbai and Kolkata can recoup the ‘price’ of girls and women in seven months, meaning that the rest of the income generated during their “slavery” is pure profit, concluded ‘A Study of Trafficked Nepali Girls and Women in Mumbai and Kolkata’, by the NGO ‘Terre des hommes’.

About 30,000 Nepalis work in brothels in the two Indian centres, according to the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO), where they are enslaved for an average three to five years.

Many want to return home afterwards, but know they will be shunned by their families and communities, found ‘Terre des hommes’. Mathema’s report suggests for that reason, rehabilitation should be a priority for the government.

“According to our socio-cultural norms and beliefs, when women are trafficked they won’t be reaccepted into their homes…so they will have to go live elsewhere and they will need physical and psychological care and then training,” she said.

Her report makes 39, many lengthy, recommendations to address the issue, many of them on coordinating the many activities of government and NGOs.

The rapporteur planned to meet officials from the ministry of women and the NGO umbrella body Social Welfare Council on Thursday to discuss drawing up an agreement on working together.

Successive Nepali governments have signed international conventions and created national laws and an action plan to combat trafficking -but much more needs to be done, concludes the report.

For instance, the government designated 26 of Nepal’s 75 districts as “trafficking prone”. But in the year since, only 150 possible trafficking cases have been reported. “The resources are not adequate,” said Mathema.

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