At first sight, Jasmine appears to be a smart school going 16-yearold girl, but it's hard to believe Jasmine is a girl forced into prostitution.

She shared her plight carrying her toddler in her arms.

Jasmine fell into the trap of sexual offenders a few months ago, when her husband, with whom she had eloped around two years ago, ran away refusing to own the baby. It was her father who first asked Jasmine to work as a domestic help at a house owned by his friend Ram Sharan Gotame at Mulpani of Kageshwori-Manohara Municipality in Kathmandu, after it became difficult for the family to feed the young girl and her 11-month-old child.

A few days after working in the house, she understood that the landlady was operating an obscene business from her own house. In fact, Sita, the land lady, had turned her three-and-a-half storey building into a brothel.

The landlady Gotame, 40, who treated Jasmine with kindness at first, let her work as a domestic help without payment for a few days. "But after 10 days of working there as domestic help, she asked me to join prostitution, saying I would not make money from domestic work," Jasmine said, adding, "I took the work as a last resort as I was completely helpless at that moment." She realised that Sita and her friends used to lure young girls like Jasmine, rent them a room for Rs 4,000 to 5,000 per month and ask them to join her sex racket in exchange for handsome pay.

Sita used to supply food and clothes to them on credit and take back the money from poor girls in exchange for a rented room, food and clothes. "We were always on credit with the landlady as she used to trick us saying our income was less than our expenditure," said another 17-years-old girl, another of Sita's victims.

"We were forced to sleep with up to 17 men in a day, and promised Rs 500 per client, but we never received the promised money. Neither did we make any profit, as the landlady always found a way to prove our expenses exceeded our income," said another teenager, who had lived in the house for last two years.

The five girls, who worked at the brothel run by Sita were rescued by Maiti Nepal, and have already recorded their statement with Kathmandu District Court after filing a police complaint against Sita and her husband for forcing them in prostitution.

They all now reside at Maiti Nepal, and are planning to return to their homes in Dashain.

Bishwo Khadka, chairperson of Maiti Nepal, said that sex trafficking had increased in the country and the authorities, stakeholders and lawmakers should come up with stringent rules and regulations to stop these illegal activities.

"Sex racketeering in the country has advanced from the covertly operated entertainment sector to a more severe form in rampant manner. This is a serious matter and a proper law is required to tackle the situation,"

Khadka said. He further said that sex racketeers often compelled girls to do drugs, take alcohol and smoke, making it difficult for them to live a normal life. "One can find such young girls in the thousands of guest houses operating in every nook and corner of the capital these days," he added.

Meanwhile, no one really knows about the number of people trapped in the vicious cycle.

Anurag Dubedi, Superintendent of Police at Anti-human Trafficking Bureau of Nepal Police, said it was not possible to find the exact number as prostitution is not legal in the country and all such acts are operated covertly. No rule in the country clearly states that prostitution or professional sex work is illegal in the country.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 6, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.