The Rape of 100,000 Girls
by Helen Brown

Seema had left the poverty of her home village to work in Kathmandu. She was barely twelve when a smooth-talking flesh trader lured her to Bombay with talk of a better job. She hoped to become a film star. Instead she was sold into a brothel.

At first she resisted, screaming, crying and fighting off prospective customers, but the madam who ran the brothel would have none of it. She sent in a muscled toughie to hold the girl down while an old man raped her. The pain was so intense that Seema lost consciousness and had to be hospitalised for a week. After that it was back to the brothel where the other child prostitutes told her she could not win this battle.

But Seema's spirit was not broken. Nine months later she escaped from the brothel and boarded a train, hoping to eventually get back home. A soft-spoken lady promised help. She lured the young girl to Calcutta and sold her. Seema had only escaped from one brothel into another.

Now Seema appears resigned to her fate. She hits the streets of central Calcutta as soon as it gets dark and stands near a lamp-post soliciting customers. Her parents in Nepal have no idea where their daughter is. She does not have the courage to tell them, and anyway, they probably think she is dead. It is better that way...

Some children are trafficked by the owners of factories, some are sold from their home villages by parents who want the money to educate a son and some are lured by prospects of better work than they can find in Nepal. Some men marry teenage girls in order to take them to cities where they can sell them.

Not only are Nepalese girls favoured in India because clients find them more attractive, but they are more vulnerable and isolated because they do not speak the language and are far from home. This makes it easier to subdue them.

Most girls have no inkling that they will end up in a brothel. When they discover their fate, they fight as Seema did. Then they are viciously gang-raped, beaten and tortured with cigarette butts until they passively resign themselves to endless rapes. If they escape, taxi-drivers frequently act in league with brothel keepers to return them to the brothel. There they may have to be prepared to "work" from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon, while from seven in the evening to five in the morning almost every girl suffers at least two or three clients a night. Some accounts state they may have to endure as many as thirty men a night, but because they have "submitted", even their supporters appear not to class this as rape.

A large slice of their earnings is withheld to repay the brothel owner for their purchase price. Fabricated expenses, which are added on to this, also have to be repaid. As the debt increases, the girls grow older and less desirable and their earnings fall, so freedom is still remote. When they become pregnant, the madam in charge of the brothel may give them an abortion with a bamboo whisk.

A UNICEF report highlights the number of Third World women dying in childbirth because of bad conditions. If these girls survive, their children are reared in the cramped dingy squalor where their mothers are confined, sleeping under the beds while their mothers "entertain" clients. The women are forced to give their children minimum attention so the needs of the child can never conflict with that of the next man. Inevitably these malnourished uneducated children become prostitutes if they are girls and pimps and street ruffians if they are boys.

The police may raid the brothels and imprison the sex workers along with pimps, madams and traffickers, but corruption permits this sex industry to thrive, and police are among the men who use the brothels.

Finally, if women succeed in escaping, or when they are too old for the tastes of the clients or ridden with venereal disease, including HIV and AIDS, they may return to Nepal.

Back in Nepal they are ostracised. A family that has bought a house through selling a daughter may refuse her admittance because of prejudice. Many villagers believe that if you inhabit the same house as someone who has AIDS, you will become infected. On the other hand they want to know what a person with the disease looks like, so come to gape.

The Prime Minister of Nepal considered that the way to control the spread of AIDS is to imprison the girls, as prostitution is illegal. Not all police share the village prejudices - there is a belief that once a woman has been abused she is available to any man - so they habitually rape the girls.

By the age of thirty almost all are dead.

Moreover, if you show concern when you meet people in Kathmandu with inside knowledge, your contacts may become noticeably alarmed. Determined woman activists sometimes fear for their lives although the flesh trade is illegal. Passing legislation against a crime gives the authorities leverage to extract a bribe whenever a culprit is caught. Even some well-known leaders of the women's groups that claim to tackle the problem are implicated in corruption and collusion surrounding cases of rape.

When the previous Prime Minister of Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, was in the U.S.A., he was asked by Nepalis living in New York whether the Nepalese government had sent fact- finding missions to the various Indian cities where Nepalese women are enslaved as prostitutes and whether the government had any programmes for their rehabilitation if they returned home.

His answer: "There are more pressing matters and priorities in the country!"

You may feel the magnitude of the problem is hopeless. However a statement made by one of his predecessors, Girija Prasad Koirala, while on a prestige jaunt to Europe to attend a UN conference on Human Rights, gives another perspective:

"Not one single violation of human rights has happened in Nepal in the past two years. The Nepalese are enjoying human rights...!"

Two years, of course, was the time he'd been in office.

Now why should he bother to attend the conference or fabricate such claims if he had nothing to gain from misleading the West about the true state of human rights in Nepal? The authorities in Nepal fear loss of face. An awareness of Western concern might be the first step in motivating any strong leader to introduce massive penalties for the corruption that permits such practises to happen, or alternatively to risk being viewed as a failure.

Now power in Nepal has been seized by the new King. Is there any evidence that he cares for the well-being of these girls?

It is worth remembering that revelations about the exploitation of children in the Nepalese carpet industry have had such an impact that those who stood to profit from the exploitation are now complaining heartily that they no longer have a significant Western market for their carpets.

Can you trust all the leading women in Nepal? Read this.

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For more information on issues of sex trafficking please email:
Captive Daughters

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Helen Brown

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