EDITORIAL: Women trafficking

One reason why girl trafficking has flourished in Nepal is because traffickers can operate here without much fear

At least 103 Nepali girls, including a dozen minors, destined for the Gulf countries have been rescued in the northeastern state of Manipur, just days after a raid on a private residence in New Delhi, India helped six Nepali women from being trafficked. The Manipur Police, in coordination with India and Nepal-based non-governmental organisations, had rescued them from various cities bordering Myanmar. In a series of raids across Indian cities in recent months, hundreds of other Nepali girls have been released from their hideouts, where they were being holed up before being transported to their destinations in the Gulf countries. What has been unearthed is just the tip of the iceberg and betrays the magnitude of the problem.

Traditionally, Nepali girls were trafficked to India, lured with promises of a good job, at times even a role in Hindi cinema, and then sold in the red light areas across India. No one knows the exact number of Nepali women who have been sold into the flesh trade there to lead a life of hell, but their estimates run into several hundred thousand, with even a sizeable number making up minors aged as little as eight years old. However, in recent decades, women are being increasingly trafficked to the Gulf countries - Nepal’s labour destination for the youths – with quite a few even spilling over to African countries. The women are promised good jobs that provide plenty of good money, unaware of what they entail. Amidst growing concerns of physical and psychological exploitation of Nepali women in the Gulf countries, the government in 2016 had banned women from going there to work as domestics. So, women opted to fly out of Indian cities to evade scrutiny by the Nepali authorities. As the Indian government has beefed up vigilance at its airports, the traffickers are using the land route through Myanmar to smuggle Nepali women to the Gulf.

There could be many reasons why it is easy to traffick Nepali girls and women. Poverty, especially in the rural areas, is the single biggest factor why girls would be tempted by anything that promises an easier life. Displacement during the 10-year insurgency period and after the devastating earthquake in 2015 only made them more vulnerable to being trafficked. One reason why girl trafficking has flourished in Nepal is because traffickers can operate here without much fear. Few traffickers have been arrested, and even when arrested they have managed to walk out of prison easily, forcing one to question if political protection isn’t helping it to thrive. So tough laws and political commitment will be needed to control it. Creating awareness among the vulnerable groups could help reduce cases of trafficking. More often than not, the traffickers are someone the women know, so they ought to have the presence of mind to question if they are being trafficked. Globally, trafficking in women is big business, as big as drug trafficking and gunrunning. So we cannot merely wish it to go away. Hence, given the large number of girls who have been trafficked and sold in India and the Gulf countries, the Nepali government together with the governments of these countries must take up the issue seriously to put an end to this highly lucrative business based on human exploitation.

Rising leprosy cases 

Despite the fact that Nepal was declared a leprosy-free country in 2010, the number of new leprosy cases is on the rise. According to Anandaban Hospital, the leprosy referral hospital in Nepal, as many as 2,733 leprosy patients are receiving treatment all over the country. Of them, 278 are new cases and 237 are children suffering from grade 2 disability. The hospital says more than 150 new patients come to the hospital for treatment.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper part of the respiratory tract and the eyes. It is curable and treatment in the early stage can prevent disability. The World Health Organisation has listed 22 countries as high burden leprosy countries, and Nepal ranks sixth. Many people, mainly in the rural areas, are unable to access the treatment even though the cure is free. The way the new cases are detected every year, the government must launch an awareness campaign all over the country to eradicate the disease, which forces a patient to endure a life of abuse, isolation and shame.