Friday, July 26, 2002

Tashi Dolma Thinley

Anti-women-trafficking tactic ignites controversy

Anti-girl trafficking measures that seek to save’ girls from Indian brothels have often made headlines here and there, but not everyone seems to be happy with the strategies adopted while rescuing girls from brothels.

Among those unhappy are some organisations working against women trafficking, and surprisingly, even some women who have been ostensibly rescued by benefactors. The latter group is particularly angry over incomplete rehabilitation efforts here at home, and also the fact that they miss out on the more lucrative income they were used to in the flesh trade.

But first, why are some well-meaning organisations unhappy? The answer lies in the fact that there seems to be a monopoly on which organisation gets to rescue trafficked women and girls from Indian brothels.

At the moment, an Indian organisation named STOP has been tasked exclusively to raid various brothels in New Delhi to rescue’ Nepali girls. STOP is an affiliate of Maiti Nepal, a huge anti-trafficking and rehabilitation NGO based in Kathmandu which has won worldwide praise for its efforts.

Since STOP hands over all its rescued girls to Maiti-Nepal, other NGOs are none too pleased.

Inevitably, charges of rescuing girls against their will has been levelled against STOP by local NGOs.

"A sour truth is, not everyone wishes to come back to Nepal and a certain organisation called STOP in the area is notorious for raiding brothels forcibly at midnight and taking Nepali women away and later subjecting them to threats and exploitation everyday," says Laxmi Pokharel, program officer at ABC Nepal, another local NGO which rescues and rehabilitates trafficked women.

According to Pokharel, who is just back from leading a team to the notorious GB Road in New Delhi, since only STOP has been given the monopoly and the license to raid and rescue girls, corruption and threats against girls are rife. "Girls told me that to stay back in the brothels they have to bribe these rescue men and are often subjected to exploitation and threats."

Maiti Nepal officials admit that they have an affiliation with STOP, but the affiliation only runs to repatriating the girls rescued by STOP.

"We don't know how they (STOP) rescue girls, our job is to go and get them," says Armina Lama, shelter and rehab centre in-charge at Maiti Nepal.

"But we have the police support with us in rescuing minor girls." She also said that Maiti Nepal has no idea of STOP rescuing the girls forcibly.

Due to its various affiliations with such monopoly organisations in Delhi, Bombay and other urban centres of India, Maiti Nepal repatriates on average 50 Nepali women a month. In comparison, other NGOs get less number of women to repatriate. Pokharel of ABC Nepal says that since 1996, they have repatriated only 75 women. She also claims that none of their rescued women have been forcibly repatriated back home.

Rescuing’ girls forcibly is now seen as unwanted especially by the rescued themselves.

Many women who are brought back to Nepal and sent to rehabilitation centres are neither positive about it, nor do they stick with rehab measures for long. They go right back into prostitution. Bipana Maya, for instance, was brought back from Delhi in 1999 and rehabilitated for a year. Today, not surprisingly, she is again a commercial sex worker in the capital.

"With some counselling and skill training like knitting, we can't get around anywhere. If I knew that this is what I would get for leaving the brothel, I wouldn't have come back," Maya says.

The failure of rehabilitation efforts for many of these women are making officials concerned. Jaqueline Brylt, program officer at the UNAIDS, asserts that though rehab centres do bring the girls back, they fail in giving the women viable alternatives for a normal life. "Those women, who have earlier earned a lump sum of money in Bombay and Delhi, will definitely not be ready for knitting and stitching the whole day," she says.

But Maya did try to live normal life back in Chitwan. Ironically her community did not accept her.

She says, "I then realised that it is the society that needs rehabilitation and not just us."

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Created: September 4, 2002
Last modified: September 9, 2002
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