Matt Gwilliam reports on the Maiti Nepal project, which rescues children stolen for sex trafficking and forced labour - the stories are truly harrowing.
On the border between Nepal and India, a small band of “survivors” attempt to stem the tide of an estimated 12,000 women and girls a year that are trafficked into slavery in India. It is thought that around 60% are under 16. This remarkable band of women have all been rescued by the organisation Maiti Nepal; they are fearless in their work and do what they can to interrogate anyone crossing the border with young girls.
All these volunteer border guards were rescued from a life of hell inside the brothels of India. Their stories are horrific. Lured by the promise of jobs or in search of family members, they become trapped by criminals and smuggled across the border. Incarcerated inside brothels they can be tortured and beaten.
Some of the girls, as young as 11, are force-fed growth hormones to develop their young bodies. Any children produced as a consequence are taken and used as leverage to prevent them trying to escape. Condoms are a rarity and HIV-AIDs is rife.
Maiti Nepal has rescued thousands of women from the brothels of India and returned them to Nepal. Once safely in the charity’s care they are given accommodation, education and medical treatment. In this safe environment, they begin to face up to the emotional and often physical trauma that has befallen them. For most, the final aim is to be reunited with their families, but the social stigma attached to forced prostitution often means they are shunned. Without Maiti Nepal, they have nothing.
The organisation attacks the problem comprehensively. As well as dealing with the rescue of victims and giving them a life back, Maiti Nepal also works on prevention. Their people assist border guards at checkpoints, try to educate people in remote villages about the dangers of sex-traffickers and are also in contact with reformed sex-traffickers so they can learn about how the trade operates.
CNN’s Freedom Project (Facebook page) is the network’s initiative to draw attention to the “horrors of modern-day slavery”. Unashamedly, the network has directed its correspondents to produce one story, every day on the subject of slavery in the world today. One of these initiatives is a film that documents the work of Mati Nepal and its founder, CNN’s hero of the year, Anuradha Koirala.
In one of many heart-breaking segments of the film, a woman infected with HIV and therefore forced to live apart from her child in the Maiti Nepal hospice, tells of how she is only living for her son. In another, a young woman rescued from a brothel but who had her child taken away by the criminals, is reunited with her son. Sadly, the child, separated for so long, is frightened and pulls away. The mother sobs, “Mummy”, whilst clutching the child to her.
As comprehensive as the Maiti Nepal’s project has become, it is dwarfed by the scale of the problem. One by one it has rescued women and made a tremendous difference. But the estimated 12,000 victims a year that pass into India is roughly the same number the organisation has rescued in its 18-year history.
The problem of slavery goes so much further than the brothels of Delhi and Calcutta. The US State Department estimates there are 27 million people in enforced labour around the world and around 100,00 in the US alone. As Dr Aidan McQuade, of Anti-Slavery International, pointed out to a room of invited guests watching CNN’s documentary, it is likely you are wearing something that was made by somebody in enforced labour.
When asked what the British government could do, Dr McQuade replied that there needed to be a push similar to the gender-equalities push of the mid 90s. Every DFID funding application should include the question:
“What will this project do to help solve the problem of modern day slavery?”
The answer could quite legitimately be nothing, but funding organisations have to be made to at least think about it.
Nepal’s Stolen Children: A CNN Freedom Project Documentary is broadcast on Saturday July 2nd at 1400 and 2100 and Sunday July 3rd at 0100 and 1000Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.