Nepal: 'I was 14 when I was sold'

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  • Image showing introduction to the comic told by Laxmi, a survivor of human trafficking from Nepal. Show text

    "I was 14 when I was sold." Laxmi, a survivor of human trafficking from Nepal. "I wasn't given any education because of the situation in the family. So I used to take the livestock out."

  • Image showing Laxmi being taken Show text

    "Sister, where's your home?" I didn't answer. I was afraid.

  • Image showing Laxmi drinking juice Show text

    "Why have you done this to me?" "Have some lemon juice for the headache." "When I drank it, I fainted again."

  • Laxmi is talking to the manager Show text

    Then they took me somewhere to meet a manager, and asked me to go into a room and wait for them. They didn't come in for a long time, so I asked: "Where are they?" "They've gone to a bazaar in the city." "Which city?" "Mumbai." I begged the girl to be sent home, but...she told me I had been sold to the manager.

  • Image showing workshop run by N60 the Didi Project, which educates locals about human trafficking Show text

    "After that I was thrown into a room to entertain clients and forced to give sexual favours." At an anti-trafficking workshop in Dulikhel, Kavre district, Laxmi's tragic story sounds all too familiar. The workshop, run by NGO the Didi Project, uses a translated version of Patricia McCormick's novel SOLD to educate locals about the dangers of trafficking. "Even if she does run off again no one will help her." The attendees, all local women, are undoubtedly empowered by the workshop and vow to take Nepali copies back to their community to start reading groups. Especially in light of Laxmi's horrific testimony. "They turned on the radio loud so people wouldn't hear me screaming." But like the ever-shifting nature of trafficking itself, things aren't quite as clear cut as Laxmi's brave testimony (from 20 years ago) would have us believe.

  • Image showing profile of an average human trafficker Show text

    Helen Sherpa, from World Education Nepal, is blunter: "In the old days, it was the drug 'em and drag 'em story. The percentage of girls trafficked to India now is small - but there's a lot of drama in that story, so that's where the journalists focus. Nowadays the major destinations are internal - Kathmandu and Pokhara." The profile of an average trafficker ["dalal" in Nepali, or "middleman"] has also changed. Many are relatives of the victim. ...promising them educational opportunities in the city. Or, in many cases, existing victims are sent back to their village to recruit new workers to replace themselves.

  • Image showing the red-light district Show text

    Pramesh at Change Nepal - based in Thamel, the capital's tourist hub and unofficial red-light district - says the change extends to the treatment of the girls too. "Our beneficiaries aren't locked up any more. But they're locked up financially. And socially." The money's been invested in her clothes, her mobile. She's already taken it. "Here they don't know about trafficking, or being sold. Compared with their life in their village, now they are in the big city! They say 'We've been given a job!'"

  • Image showing the arrests of the managers and owners of human trafficking Show text

    The myth of the "rescue", also typical in the trafficking narrative, is overblown, in Pramesh's opinion. The owners know when they have a raid. So they escape. Almost all of those arrested are beneficiaries. They're taken to the station where they're kept in custody for a few days and not given proper food or clothing. Then owners will come and pay the bail in front of the beneficiaries, which is later added to their tab to prove that they're the only ones that care about them. That they're the godfathers." (60% of those "rescued" return to their traffickers, according to Change Nepal)

  • Image showing a child working. Child workers in Nepal report that 48% of child porter families are indebted to local money lenders. Show text

    Sex trafficking may get the headlines but forced labour and debt bondage, or a combination of the two, is more common in Nepal. Yuvraj Roka from Child Development Society: "Many villages can only sustain themselves for six months of the year so the Dalals take advantage of their economic conditions with high-interest loans." Unable to pay back their loans, whole families are sent to live on-site at the kilns or send their children to work as porters in the mines. Which means pulling the kids out of education. Child workers in Nepal report that 48% of child porter families are indebted to local money lenders. The average age of a child porter is 13. Average weight they carry is 37kg. 38% of them have had accidents. Longest journeys can take 27 hours (Stats from Nov 20 Plan Int'l and World Education Assessment of Child Labour in Nepal) The majority of child labourers are trafficked internally.

  • There are numerous sari factories - 127 children were rescued from neighbouring Bhaktapur by CDS in August alone. Show text

    "There are numerous sari factories - 127 children were rescued from neighbouring Bhaktapur by CDS in August alone. Their age range is 6-14. But again, there's an unexpected openness to it: "Employers go to remote villages promising to teach them a skill...and give them a salary." However, they start on nothing but food, lodging and 50 Nepali Rupees per week for soap.The key is teaching children their rights: "The children enjoy it! They are given mobiles with hindi songs on so they focus on their work." One child told me he left school to work at a construction site because "school was boring".

  • Graph showing the number of Nepali migrant workers Image showing exploiation of labour Show text

    As younger children take the manual labour for less pay, youths are forced to go abroad for work. 25% of Nepal's GDP in 2010 was from foreign remittances. Exploitation during labour migration, particularly to the Gulf, is another huge problem. "Young female workers are reported to have been sexually and psychologically exploited in Gulf countries. So the cabinet banned women aged under 30 from working in the Gulf." - Min for Info and Communications Raj Kishor Yadav. Forcing those that continue to do so to make the journey with even fewer assurances. All the more dangerous in a culture that still thinks a woman's place is in the home. "There is no black and white: not all migration is successful, nor trafficking. For the gov't, sending women isn't about sending remittance. When a woman comes back, her relationships are different." Saru Joshi, UN Women

  • An equally deep-rooted yet often overlooked issue in trafficking is ethnicity: typically the Janajati (ethnic minorities) and Tamang communities constitute the bulk of trafficking victims. Show text

    An equally deep-rooted yet often overlooked issue in trafficking is ethnicity: typically the Janajati (ethnic minorities) and Tamang communities constitute the bulk of trafficking victims. Historically, the Tamang were denied land, temples or organisations until 1960. To this day they lack the infrastructural support to protect themselves as a community, according to World Education. Broadly speaking, trafficking stems from a combination of lack of education and economic desperation which together obfuscate the rights of women, or the needs of a child's development - making them easy prey for Dalals. With no public school system and the promise of jobs elsewhere, children in remote areas are increasingly seen as immediate assets for work rather than long-term investments.

Reporting and graphics by Dan Archer

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