Three years ago, when Indra Bahadur Sinjali of Nawalparasi returned after a weeklong trip to Baglung, daughter Lok Maya was not home. With help from local schoolteacher Yam Gurung, Raju Chhetri had trafficked her to the Indian city of Mumbai.
Chhetri sold Lok Maya for IRs 45,000 to a Mumbai-based trafficking agency which later supplied the girl to the Middle East.
Chhetri, whom the Nawalparasi District Police Office is watching, admitted to have trafficked the girl to an Indian agency owned by one Taufik. Mahesh Bhattarai, another Nepali trafficker said to have helped Chhetri in Mumbai, is currently in the Nawalparasi jail.
On April 17, the Nawalparasi police gave the traffickers—Chettri and Gurung—month to trace the girl's whereabouts. If Gurung and Chhetri fail to find and hand over the girl to police within the given time, they will be arrested and prosecuted.
Anti-trafficking agencies in Nepal, including Esther Benjamins Memorial Trust Foundation (EBMTF) and Maiti Nepal, say this case represents the agony of hundreds of trafficked women as well as that of their families.
According to the agencies, the trend of selling Nepali women to Indian brothels has altered.
Maiti Nepal Information Officer Achyut Nepal said traffickers these days do not choose Indian brothels. They sell Nepali girls to Indian manpower agencies which in turn sell them to Arabian agents as housemaids.
“A survey conducted of girls who returned from the Middle East shows nearly all of them are subject to sexual violence,” he said. “The trend has increased. Thus, Nepali agents are not only highly paid, this also prevents their arrest as the crime is committed under the veil of foreign employment.” Executive Director of Foreign Employment Promotion Board Sthaneshwor Devkota agreed with Nepal.
“We have also come across some such cases, leading to speculation that the trafficking trend might have shifted from brothels to Middle East,” said DIG Parbati Thapa, chief of Nepal Police Women Cell. “The reason behind this is the lack of employment opportunities in Nepal. All the government can do to prevent this is increase awareness campaigns.”
Moreover, Nepali racketeers have apartments in Indian cities of Mumbai and Delhi, among others, where girls sold to Indian agencies by local agents are kept for about two weeks while the agency manages their visa and passport.
“The girls are provided with luxuries for 12 to 15 days,” said Bhaskar Karki of EBMTF, who reached Mumbai while investigating into Lok Maya's case.
“Ignorant that they have already been sold like animals, the girls are taken to movies and beauty parlours. This shift in trafficking trend is even more dangerous. It was easier to find girls sold to brothels. Now that they are being taken to a third country, it is very difficult to trace their whereabouts.”
“They had assured me that my daughter would be back in two years,” said Sinjali, Lok Maya's father. “She's not in contact.” His wife died last year hoping to see her daughter again.