WHAT IS TRAFFICKING?
According to the International Labour Organization 20.9 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking and forced labor; 22% of individuals are forcibly exploited for sex (4.5 million people). Due to the secrecy of the sex trafficking industry, obtaining accurate, reliable statistics proves difficult.
Most of the women that are trafficked are around the age of nineteen, but some are as young as five years old and some are in their late thirties. In Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries, including Nepal, women are viewed as inferior to men and so are considered to have less value. Some women are sold into sex- trafficking by their own families. There are even accounts of men who have proposed to women and sold them into trafficking after they were married.
WHAT DOES THE TRAFFICKING CYCLE LOOK LIKE?
Nepal is a very poor country, where families are so impoverished that the girls are forced to support them, and prostitution seems to be the easiest way to provide an income. Other times the families will sell their daughter(s) into a brothel for the money.
Additionally, 54 women and girls are trafficked out of Nepal each day - that is more than 15,000 women and children a year. These women are predominantly being brought across open borders to be used in the sex trade in Mumbai, India.
Once at the brothels, women are charged for their food and rent; the women are even charged for the cost of their purchase into the brothel. The owners charge more than the women can possibly make, a small enough difference that the women have hope to be able to pay off their debt, but they continue to get more and more into debt. They are required to turn over all the money they make to go towards their debt, so they never have enough money to try to escape. They are also not allowed enough freedom to escape and must remain near or in the brothel.
A lot of children are also born into the brothels. While they are young, most of them laugh and play like normal kids. Prostitution is not legal until kids have reached puberty, so as they get close to that age, they are given hormones to speed up the process. Before they are trafficked, children are sold to be “broken in”; because they are virgins, they are sold at a higher price – and their will is broken so they will not think of escaping. In order be freed from a brothel, a woman stuck in trafficking has to want out – many of the women do not want out; all they know is the brothel, and they are told this is their purpose in life. They are also told lies about what life is like outside the brothel and threatened if they try to leave.
WHAT IS THE SAFE HOUSE DOING TO HELP?
Helping the women is a two-part process – the first step is to getting the women out of the brothels and to the safe house. Typically women living in a brothel are given an hour for “tea,” which is the equivalent of a lunch break in the United States. During this time they will often go to a beauty salon. The safe house has a salon that is run by two dedicated women. After a trafficked woman has been coming to the salon several months and they have gained her trust, the ladies there will slip her a note with a time and place to meet. At the meeting they will secretly take her to the safe house. This is dangerous work because when the “owners” find out that someone has fled, they will usually try to hunt the woman down in order to take her back. For this reason the location of the safe house is kept secret, and the property is fenced and guarded. The safe house is also secretive because if the landowner discovers that his property is being used as a refuge for trafficked women, he would evict them out of fear for his reputation. It would also be considered a disgrace to the community if it was discovered that trafficked women were living there.
The second part of the process to aid sex-trafficked women is helping them receive more complete care and support. The women are required to stop smoking, using drugs, or other activities associated with the life of trafficking. The safe house provides a one-year program, which is threefold – the first and most important aspect is by showing the women they are loved. Hinduism, the prominent religion of Nepal, has a caste system that places very little value on women to begin with, but after being sold into trafficking they are considered to be “the bottom of the food chain.” These women refer to themselves as walking dead because they are utterly hopeless and their will has been broken. The safe house offers the women hope by showing them that they are loved and have worth. The second way that the safe house is helping these women is by teaching them a trade like making clothing or jewelry. That way they have an income to provide for themselves without having to go back to prostitution. Finally, the safe house is giving the women at the safe house a basic education. Unlike the United States where everyone has the opportunity to attend public schools, only the rich can get an education in Nepal because it is very expensive. After completing the one-year program at the safe house most of the women are equipped with the tools they need to live normal lives; they usually then repeat the cycle of deliverance by helping other women who are trapped in the world of trafficking.
This ministry takes great commitment and being “other focused” (focused on helping other people and caring for their needs).