A provision of decent working conditions is a prerequisite to prevent females from being sexually abused
It is shocking to learn that 20 per cent of females engaged in the entertainment and hospitality sector have become victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, according to a report published recently by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC report, titled “Status of Women and Children Working in Entertainment and Hospitality Sector”, has stated that concerned entrepreneurs were imposing forced labour either “deliberately” or “inadvertently”. Forced labour is illegal, especially when it involves women and girls in any sector, be it in the entertainment and hospitality sector or in other sectors. The report states that when women and girls are coerced or forced into sexual exploitation, the law enforcement agencies responsible for crime investigation and prosecution pay no attention to the plight of the victims. Instead, the victims of sexual exploitation are framed as the culprits to grant impunity to the entrepreneurs. The entertainment and hospitality sector includes dohorisanjh, rodhighar, dance bar, discotheque, massage parlour and cabin restaurant, where men frequent for relaxation. There are around 3,500 of such places across the country, mostly concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara, Narayangadh, Itahari and Dharan. The report says that around 60,000 people, mostly women and girls, are engaged in this sector.
The report says the NHRC team had conducted interviews with a total of 56 female workers, and 37 per cent of them were below 18 years of age. Sixty-eight per cent of them were from outside the Kathmandu Valley, ranging from illiterate to college goers. During the interview, four female workers said they were forced into providing sexual services to the clients while three others were pressurised to act as sex workers. Even more shocking to learn is that the employers quite often withhold their salaries to make sure that they did not quit the work or report to the police about their plight.
Considering the plight of the female workers in this sector, it is high time the government introduced a bill to this effect to make it a dignified business and ensure their rights, minimum salary and other benefits to those working there. As we cannot put a complete ban on this sector, a specific law must govern it so that the female workers can lodge complaints and get justice whenever they face any kind of sexual or labour-related exploitation. Though there is no specific law dealing with the entertainment and hospitality sector, perpetrators can be booked under the existing Civil and Criminal Code Act, Children Act and Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act. As the nature of work in this sector is entirely different, we need to pass a separate law to deal with the problems faced by the female victims. The women and girls who are working in foreign countries as far away as Africa in the same sector also face sexual abuse, and they are also not allowed to return home whenever they wish. There should be close coordination among the labour office, police and office of the district attorney to put an end to human trafficking and sexual abuse. A provision of decent working conditions is a prerequisite to prevent women and girls from being sexually abused. The leisure sector will also get due recognition if it is well regulated by law.
It must have taken some resolve on the part of Namobuddha Municipality in Kavre to demolish six of the eight brick kilns on Sunday for failing to relocate by the end of last fiscal year. Bricks constitute the major building material while constructing houses in Nepal, but the traditional brick kilns spew heavy smoke and are a source of air pollution, especially in and around the Kathmandu Valley. There has been a spurt in the number of brick kilns on the outskirts of Kathmandu to meet the ever growing demand for housing in the capital. And this has had telling impact on the visibility and health of the inhabitants, especially when the brick kilns overcrowd an area.
There are ways to improve the environment. One is to relocate the brick kilns to the Tarai plains, where the smoke can disperse in all directions instead of concentrating just above a settlement. Secondly, more environment-friendly brick kilns can be introduced to cut down on the air pollution. But as the demand for housing and other constructions will only multiply with each passing year, it would be wiser to switch to other forms of construction materials, such as hollow concrete blocks.
A version of this article appears in print on August 27, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.