NEPAL: The Appalling Side of Nepal Sparks a Woman's Crusade

Monday, May 23, 2011
WA Today
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes

One woman is leading the fight against the scourge of child sexual slavery, writes Courtney Trenwith.

Every day some 50 girls are pulled off buses at the Nepal-India border and saved – at the last minute – from a life of the worst kind of slavery.

At least twice as many more are not.

Taken over the border, they become trapped as victims in the heinous sex trafficking industry.

According to some of the girls rescued by the Maiti Nepal refuge in Kathmandu, they are forced to "service" 20-25 men per day.

They are so traumatised many become incommunicable. The majority are infected with HIV and even the youngest, barely at the beginning of puberty, fall pregnant.

For some, their final destination is Australia, a prime destination for women and children trafficked from India

According to the US government, at least 22 people have been charged with human trafficking in Australia since 2006, with at least eight convictions including for child sex tourism.

One Nepalese woman is standing at the forefront of this assault on her nation's girls. Anuradha Koirala has spent almost three decades fiercely fighting the crime she describes as "a shame on humanity".

The 61-year-old has helped save more than 12,000 girls and young women from the hands of sex traffickers and prevented countless more from falling prey to the scouts that haunt remote villages, offering girls "jobs" in the city.

She has been recognised by the United Nations and last year was named CNN Hero of the Year.

On a chance flight last December, Ms Koirala met a Perth couple who were so overwhelmed by her stories they have brought her to Australia for a three-week tour to raise awareness.

In Perth yesterday, Ms Koirala said her organisation, Maiti Nepal - which means Mother Home - had not only saved girls but helped catch more than 1100 sex traffickers.

Of them, 415 have been convicted and 725 are awaiting trial, compared to the handful caught by police.

They are caught by the very girls they sought to exploit. Some of the victims who have spent months recouperating and learning new skills at Ms Koirala's safe house return to the border as angels.

Groups of five are stationed at 10 of the 26 official border crossings to watch for signs of sex trafficking, based on their own experiences.

Ms Koirala said each group saved at least five girls each day.

"If I had money and support I would put them in all 26 [crossing points]," she said. "Five girls [rescued at] each post is 50 girls per day. If it was at 26 posts how much would it be?"

After witnessing the extraordinary work at Maiti Nepal, Perth couple Gillian and Clifford Yuleman were compelled to help.
"You can really see how these young girls and women ... [are] fodder for people trafficking, because there's so much poverty and of course [there's] ignorance," Mrs Yuleman said.

"When you meet [Ms Koirala] she's so humble and so courageous and has done this job in such difficult circumstances and at great risk to her life.

"When she goes to India to rescue these girls she has to go with armed guards."

The Yulemans offered Ms Koirala to send books for the school.

"She said, no, please can you play my electricity bill," Mrs Yuleman said. "So I realised at that point the level of need."

Ms Koirala is speaking at several events from Perth to Melbourne and yesterday opened an exhibition of photographs Mr Yuleman took during the couple's Nepalese visit.

Ms Koirala said Australia had done little to fight human trafficking. She called on the government to pressure Nepal to act and to undertake prevention projects in her country.

For a woman who was questioned by customs officials over her medicines when she arrived at Perth International Airport, it is difficult to understand the lack of action.

"[Australians] should be sensitive of this issue because this is the third-largest crime in the world after drugs and arms," she said.

"If the Australian government ... worked in one district [of Nepal] and had control over trafficking in this district I think that would be nice."

Nepal's poor and uneducated population, as well as a culture that renders women second-class citizens and a disinterested government, has created a relatively easy environment for traffickers to work.

Ms Koirala and her supporters visit families in vulnerable villages in a bid to educate them about the traffickers' tricks.
Yet as she works in one village, the criminals move to another, and she cannot always convince poor families not to sell their daughters.

"Parents feel, why do we want to educate the girls because when they get married they'll be in somebody else's house but the boys will stay with us and look after the house," Ms Koirala said.

"Slowly [the culture] will change."

Still facing an uphill battle after three decades, Ms Koirala used the paradox within her safe house to describe her motivation.

"It's the sorrow I see daily in the girls coming back [from where they were rescued]," she said. "Parents coming to report their children being lost, of small girls being raped and the criminals not getting punishment. These are the things that keep me going on.

"There is also a positive side which keeps me going on. That is when I see in the morning all the girls in my shelter going to school.

"The compound is so barran and empty when they are in school and work. But as soon as it's 3.30-4pm, it's full of life again. Some are dancing, some are learning music, some are doing yoga practice; children are playing. They are so happy."