Daughters for Sex: A Mission to Counter the Cruelty

May 23, 2011
*Special to asia!

Stolen, beaten, raped and broken - Anuradha Koirala confronts diplomacy and leads a campaign to restore power to children and women smuggled out of Nepal to fuel an illicit international trade in humans.

878 Anuradha Koirala greets guests in Singapore during a whirlwind tour to raise awareness and garner support for her work to counter the trade of women from Nepal for the international sex trade. (Photo courtesy: Bimal Thapa)

Founder of Maiti Nepal and CNN Hero of the Year, Anuradha Koirala, swung into Singapore for one week on a whirlwind outreach campaign to spread awareness and garner support for efforts to counter the illegal trafficking of Nepal's women.

Maiti Nepal's mission is to prevent the trafficking of girls for the sex trade, child labour and various forms of exploitation and torture. Many of the girls are tricked into the trade by friends, relatives and family members whom they trust. The girls and those who trade them are lured with the hope of earning a better living than in Nepal, or with promises as innocent as "a visit to the carnival". From as young as seven years old, these girls endure a brutal existence where learned hopelessness is sometimes the only means to maintain a sliver of sanity. But some girls, whom Anuradha Koirala calls "the survivors", manage to break out and recreate an empowered life.

I managed to score a few minutes with the humble heroine as she dashed between her series of talks to understand how she and her team are restoring spirits, and touch a little on her views on being a "hero" that's also a mere mortal.

DN: How do you nurture love, courage and confidence in these girls whose spirits have been so severely broken?

AK: We never leave them alone. In my team, we remember the names and stories of over 80% of the youths we work with. I can remember all of them. Can you imagine? We are always in contact with them and we work very closely. They know that if they have any problem they can come to us. We are like a family. We want them to know that they are never alone; there is always help. 

DN: Can you share a story of one of the survivors that inspires you?

AK: Geeta came in one of our rescues [from India]. She came back to Nepal and stayed with us. She still stays with us. We tested her and she's HIV-positive. She then went to work as a border guard [between India and Nepal]. When she was working as a border guard, she fell in love with a man. It's no sin to fall in love with a man. She came up to me and told me she wanted to get married. I said OK. We asked to meet the man. He seemed all right. But later this man turned out to be very violent, and deceitful. You cannot recognise people by face I think. He had an unpredictable character. When [Geeta] was pregnant, he left her. But when we found out she was pregnant, we started giving medicines to her to protect the child, so that it doesn't get infected with HIV. Thank god, she gave birth to a son, we named him Mukti, it means salvation and freedom, because he was freed from HIV. He's still with us, he goes to school, and Geeta is still with us.

After her work at the border, we brought her to work in our head office [in Kathmandu] as an assistant. She used to run errands for the staff like photocopying and filing, that sort of thing. But now, now, she's working at the reception, answering phone calls - she never knew how to use a telephone. She's also learned how to use the computer, the staff told me that every day after office hours, she'd sit at the computer and go to the CNN website to vote for me! So Geeta was a child that never went to school. She didn't have any skills, and now she can work with people and function with a team. She's also the vice president of an organisation - she started her own organisation, a "survivors group" organisation called Utsha Nepal. They go to villages and make peer groups to raise awareness, generate funds to run programmes and support girls who are at risk of being trafficked.

I want these girls to be the resource - I'm only the second-hand person, they have first-hand experience. So I want them to run Maiti Nepal after me. So I told Geeta, I always tell all the girls, you are the ones to run this.

DN: How is it like for Geeta now, to interact with people in her work?

AK: She takes care of everything from household work to the top dealings! Whatever work I am doing, she does the same work. So there is no difference. The only difference between her and me is that I am educated and she is not educated. Everything else, we are the same.

DN: I meant to ask about her spirit, compared to how she was before...

AK: Oh, she's very powerful now. Before she thought she was gone, she was nowhere. The first time she was trafficked, she thought that, I think. The second time was with her husband. Now, Geeta is on leave. She is fighting a legal case with her husband. She has returned to her village and I am sure she will win and get the property - half the property that is now the husband's.

DN: Which village is this?

AK: She's in Chitwan. She is from Sindhupalchowk, her husband's from Chitwan. The case is in Chiatwan court. She'll win, she'll get half the property.

DN: And that's because you have a good support group to encourage her, and tell her it's OK.

AK: We encouraged her to file the case, but the rest she did. Like talking, fighting, shouting, convincing the lawyer. She's been paying for the case with her own salary. She asked for NRp 10,000 advance and she's gone to pursue the case.

DN: Maiti Nepal was founded in 1993, but did your work begin before that?

AK: Yes, it began before that... 1991? Late in the year 1990. Because [in] 1990 democracy came in Nepal.

DN: Having done this work for over a decade, what kind of changes have you observed whether in the victims, survivors, or in the markets?

AK: People are aware of what is happening. For example, one awareness that we did - we do eight a year - and at one of the villages we visited, we said "when you see no trees, no mountains, when we see a straight road, think you are being taken to India." This is the message that we give in Nepal. We have to keep it very simple. If you see no mountains, no trees, you are being taken into India. So be careful.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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