Each day, some 100,000 people cross the border between Nepal and India, some on on foot, others in trucks or on bikes, mopeds and rickshaws. It has become one of the busiest human trafficking routes in the world.
Amid the hustle, there are women on the lookout at one of 23 border checkpoints — survivors of human trafficking who spend their day trying to spot traffickers and rescue victims.
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According to the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal, more than 23,000 women and girls were trafficked in 2016. NGOs on the ground say that number could rise to around 40,000 Nepalese victims.
The Guardian reports:
Pema, one of the women on duty, says she knows how to spot potential victims because she was herself trafficked across this border when she was 11 years old. Born in a remote village in the north of Nepal, she was taken by a friend of her parents, drugged and sold into a brothel in India. Years of rape and torture followed until she was rescued by Maiti Nepal, an anti-trafficking charity, following a raid on the brothel.
Pema spots a man trying to cross the border, holding the arm of a girl wearing a red leather jacket. She is wearing high heels, and is stumbling, unable to walk properly. “She is dressed too elegantly … One of the things traffickers do is buy women new clothes, to gain their trust,” says Pema as she approaches them and asks for their IDs.
The girl does not have any, and the man says he is a businessman working in India and that she is his girlfriend. They are taken aside; Pema and the border police start to question the man.
It turns out their fears are well-founded. The man is a classic “lover boy” fraudster, a man who has seduced a young girl on Facebook and convinced her to leave her family and run away together.
Later, when the girl learns the truth, she breaks down into tears. She is then taken to one of Maiti Nepal’s emergency shelters until she can be taken back to her family.
“It is hard for them to take in the fact that their boyfriend is a trafficker who just wants to sell them,” says Sirta, another of the guardians. “The same thing happened to me. My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys and then he sold me. I am only alive today because I was rescued.”
Maiti Nepal says that they have seen a surge in the number of women and girls who are tricked into thinking that they are going to a better life across the border in India. After the 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal, traffickers preyed on communities hit hard by the natural disaster.
“These are poor regions with high illiteracy rates. If a relative or friend turns up offering someone a job, it is often the girls’ parents themselves who encourage them to go, without realising what is really happening. It is the perfect breeding ground for traffickers,” said Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal.