Rape for Profit: Trafficking of Nepali Girls and Women to India’s Brothels
Human Rights Watch/Asia 1995
This book is about tragedy, major tragedy. Unfortunately, Rape jar Profit is also a tragedy, and not a minor one. The world listens to Human Rights Watch and HRW wasn´t watching, it was dozing. The book will have impact, and will solidify an obsolete perception of the trafficking industry in Nepal.
The book is a competent summary of a handful of reliable data and a shovelful of questionable data and outdated conventional wisdom. You´ve seen it on TV, you´ve read it in Newsweek poor Tamang girl from Nuwakot gets abducted to India and ends up an HIV-positive brothel slave. It is clearly a good story, it keeps selling. However, it is a portrait of trafficking circa 1989, and doesn´t reflect the radical changes the trafficking industry has undergone since—changes we must be aware of if trafficking is to be confronted.
The onus must be put upon the researchers, who followed the well-worn path of journalists and production crews pursuing the human rights flavour of the month. They chose the usual sources for their information: the NGO´s that show up at all the seminars. All are effective organisations, but all are Kathmandu-based. On-the-ground rural or-ganizations such as SAFE, General Welfare Pratisthan, MANK, EASE, Tripura Sundari and DSS weren´t consulted. Why? Because they don´t speak polished English?
The researchers visited Kathmandu as usual, Nuwakot as usual, and border towns as usual. Wake up, folks. Trafficking from Nuwakot and the districts around the Kathmandu Valley still exists, but it is no longer the main show. Pressure on traffickers and increased market demand has spread girl collection all over the country, especially into the Western, Mid-Western and Far-Western Regions.
Check it out in Bombay. The majority of new girls are not Tamangs anymore—in fact a high proportion are from poor Bahun and Chhetri families. In Calcutta, too, there are fewer Tamangs; many are Bahun-Chhetris and Rai-Limbus funnelled through Dharan, one of Nepal´s sin cities. The trafficking industry has aggressively evolved, and it is time to focus interventions beyond Nuwakot.
Sniffing for traffickers, the researchers went touring to three “border towns”, one of which, Butwal, is nowhere near the border. But think a minute. No trafficker is going to be hanging out in a border town, except for a 2 a.m. cup of tea on the way south with his prize. We don´t yet know the trafficking hubs, but we can guess, and the towns selected by Human Rights Watch probably aren´t high on the list.
If trafficking is to be stopped, we need to know where to stop it. We also need to know what causes it_´poverty´ is a lazy answer. The vast majority of Nepalis are impoverished, but we don´t see girls lined up hooking along the roadsides. To design intervention, we have to look further: at the pervasive discrimination against females, at the disruption of traditional family structures, and at violence against women and girls in their own communities.
Rape for Profit´s recommendations are limited to central government and police activities. They are viable recommendations, al¬though neither party gets a medal for out¬standing devotion to citizens1 welfare. The only reference to community activities is nega¬tive: local opposition to anti-traffickers in Nuwakot. In Nuwakot, selling daughters is an established business—of course, there´s opposition. In the other 90 percent of the country, trafficking is new and communities are angry. They can resist trafficking, especially with support.
UNICEF, with Nepali NGO collaboration, is promoting the establishment of a community-based sentinel system. Local NGOs are conducting legal education at the grassroots level, to empower communities to bust traffickers if the cops won´t. Communities can´t wait while first-world nations and the central government investigate, monitor, establish, accede to and ensure. Traffickers, sex-starved clients and HIV aren´t waiting.
The scene has changed , and Human Rights Watch/Asia should have picked that up. Rape for Profit paints a horrific portrait of trafficking in Nepal. Unfortunately, the reality is far worse. The book prescribes New York solutions to the problem. Fortunately, grassroots solutions are possible. The researchers did a skilful, sensitive job of presenting the facts they collected. Wish they´d do the book again, and collect up-dated facts this time.