For the past three years, 25-year-old Sita Maskey has been fighting a court battle in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, to punish alleged trafficker Rekha Karki, who she says tricked her into forced prostitution in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
"I am destroyed. I was hoping to help rid my family of poverty but all was in vain," Maskey told IRIN, recounting her story of how she sold the family farmland and house to pay for the travel expenses and for the agent who had convinced her she could earn huge amounts as a baby-sitter in Dubai.
Maskey trusted Karki who had come to visit her family in her remote Ledang village of Morang district, nearly 600km east of the capital, and told her about job opportunities in Saudi Arabia - where she had already sent many girls from several villages - as well as Sharjah and Dubai. Maskey said that, unknown to her, Karki had opened a number of brothels in rented houses in Dubai.
Karki had lied to her that she was working for a shipping company in Dubai, where she could easily help find her a job. But Maskey said that once she reached Karki's flat in the city, she was tied up, beaten and threatened with death if she tried to escape.
After nearly eight months of forced prostitution, Maskey managed to escape with the help of an Indian illegal migrant worker. She went to seek help from the Nepalese embassy but the officials initially told her that they could not help her.
Eventually, with the help of local police, the embassy officials helped to return her to Nepal but failed to take any action to find the trafficker.
Maskey's case is an example of how vulnerable Nepalese girls and women still are at the hands of traffickers, said local anti-trafficking activists. They said trafficking has changed and the victims are now no longer trafficked only to India's cities.
"We have several cases of women who were forced into prostitution in countries where the demand for labour is high," said activist Bindra Maharjan from the Women's Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC), a local NGO that has been helping to rehabilitate victims and assist in legal action against the traffickers.
She said most of these victims come from impoverished families in rural areas where there is little employment.
|I am destroyed. I was hoping to help rid my family of poverty but all was in vain.|
According to Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese girls and women are trafficked every year.
The level of vigilance declined during the decade-long armed conflict between the Nepalese government and Maoist rebels when police were too involved in controlling the insurgency, and as a result trafficking increased even more, according to WOREC.
In addition, the displacement of families and migration to India increased the vulnerability of the Nepalese girls and women. That situation has barely changed even today despite the end of armed conflict, said officials of Maiti Nepal, a prominent anti-trafficking NGO which has been helping to rescue the trafficked victims, rehabilitating them and tracking down the traffickers.
"There is a need for collaborative effort, not just at the local level but also at the international level," said activist Biswo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal. The NGO has been able to develop networks in Nepal, India and Saudi Arabia to trace the victims and traffickers, said Khadka.
Since 1998, Maiti Nepal has rescued over 600 Nepalese girls and women from India and the Gulf countries where they were tricked into, or trafficked for, prostitution. In 2006 nearly 27,000 girls and women crossed the Indian border, according to Maiti Nepal data. In the same year nearly 73 girls were rescued in border areas and their traffickers arrested by police with the help of the monitors.
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"But it's very difficult to trace the missing girls, especially those who were trafficked," said Khadga, who added that the rescued victims are afraid to reveal the names of their traffickers or brothel locations for fear that the traffickers would kill them and their families.
Activists blame the lack of strong laws against traffickers and the absence of victim-friendly courts in Nepal for punishing the traffickers. A new anti-trafficking bill was tabled months ago in the Nepalese parliament but government and opposition parties have not been keen to pass the bill, they said.
"Most of the victims of trafficking have no motivation or courage to find justice against their perpetrators in court as the legal process is too lengthy and not sensitive towards the victims," said Khadka. He said the victims often spend a minimum of two to three years waiting for a court verdict, and by that time the victim is already impoverished or migrating to another country.