Her father died in the devastating earthquake of April 25. He fell to his death at a construction site in Kathmandu. After that, 17 year-old-Suman Pode started planning to go to Punjab in India to enhance her earnings.
“I used to clean toilets in the New Road area,” said Suman, covering her face with a white shawl. Sitting on a chair at Maiti Nepal central office at Pingalasthan, Tuesday, she spoke of how her plans to go to work in India took on urgency following the quake. She has been brought, along with three others, from Kanchanpur on the Nepal-India border. Becoming suspicious of the activities of the men accompanying them, two other girls managed to escape soon after reaching Mahendranagar.
The Maiti Nepal help desk stopped four of the girls at the Kanchanpur border on Sunday whereas two Indian men who had come to Kathmandu to take them to India managed to escape. Though two of the girls they were ecorting have fled, their current status is unknown.
“The men treated us well on the way from Kathmandu, but they became utterly rude once we reached a hotel in Kanchanpur,” said Resham Deola (name changed), 17.
The men had instructed them to sprint across the border on Sunday afternoon and to behave as strangers to one another if anyone asked them if they were related in any way, explained Resham. The other two had been in India for the last seven months. Shrijana and Rewati (names changed) told police and the counselor at Maiti Nepal, that the two Indian men were their boyfriends who had promised to marry them soon.
The plan to go to India was hatched by two of the girls of this circle. They had been staying in Patiyala for the last seven months and came to Kathmandu a few weeks before the earthquake.
“This case is complex as two of the girls unknowingly helped the traffickers who promised them a better life after marriage,” said Sajina Joshi, legal officer at Maiti Nepal. The case is under investigation by police and the search for the two missing girls is ongoing.
Rewati, 20, one of the two girls who had returned from India recently, says she had been taken there through some businessmen in Kathmandu who had assured her a decent job. Girls, mostly Nepali, would be picked up and taken to perform dances at wedding parties, she claimed. The two men came in contact with them in the course of same such job and they later asked them to bring along more friends from Kathmandu so that they would have a bigger team to work with.
Rewati, like the rest of the girls, is from a very poor family and is entirely dependent on the earning of her father, a garbage collector at the hotels in Thamel.
Sharing her experience, Resham Deola looked perplexed over the recent incident in her life. “I don’t know whether my life across the border would have been better or worse,” she told Republica.
Nepal Police are already on the alert in view of the increasing vulnerability of women and children to trafficking in the wake of the quake disaster. Security personnel have arrested some of those accused in recent weeks. The Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare has for its part barred the taking of displaced women and children from one place to another without the permission of the District Administration Office.
Issuing a report in September last year, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had expressed concern over the huge increase in trafficking cases in recent years. Data shows that 11,500 women and children were trafficked in fiscal year 2010/11 and the number increased to 29,000 in 2013/14.
But the trafficking incident originating in the capital indicates an alarming picture of trafficking in the wake of the natural disaster, according to sociologists.
“The communications gap between the vulnerable group and the authorities is quite visible in this case,” said sociologist Ganesh Man Gurung, who is also a mamber of the Constituent Assembly.
The situation points to the urgency of generating economic activities for the victims, suggested Gurung.