Why and how underage girls are forced into prostitution?
How a large number of adolescent girls are coerced into sex business to earn their livelihood in Kathmandu? These teenagers, aged between 14 to 18 years, are exploited for sex but the concerned authorities are unresponsive.
-Laxmi Basnet: Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal
A larger number of people enter the capital every day to live their dreams. Among them, adolescent and teenage girls also make their way to the city. Many of these young girls do not have basic education and skills to help them earn a living. They therefore get into unfavorable circumstances in the different workplaces they are taken to. Most of them are forced into performing sex to please their masters and get enrolled into commercial sex without their choice or knowledge.
The “workplace” of these teenage girls are tea shops, restaurants, guest houses, night clubs, anddance bars. After being coerced into prostitution some of these young girls and women get pregnant leading to lifelong trauma.
In this report, we have unearthed the story of young girls who get involved in prostitution in Kathmandu.
Kamana (16) has been working in Sapana Guest House of Kalanki for the past three years. She first denied revealing about her work but later (lowering her head down) she said, “I am engaged in bad work.”
For Kamana “bad work” means sex business. She encounters with different clients. Some spends few hours a day while others prefer to stay whole night. The income is based on the clients. Those who stay for the whole night give more ‘tips’. Talking about her clients she said, “Most of the clients are married men, aged 35 to 40 years. I have regular clients compared to newer ones.”
Kamana came to Kathmandu three years ago to fulfill her dreams. Earlier, she worked in the hotel cleaning the dishes and performing housekeeping work. The earning was insufficient and the behavior of hotel owner was not friendly. So she decided to take up the job that resulted to ‘friendly behavior’ from the owner.
For the past two years, she has been staying in a rented room with friends. Her friends also work in the same field. Kamana says, “Many of my clients have my phone number. Even the hotel owners provide my number to the clients. Clients that are frequent visitors continue to call me.”
Kamana has no interest in education after she dropped out of school. But she would like to give up profession if she had certain skills. In her village, her father and mother ask what she does, she tells them that it is “good work.” She even sends money to her family. “I have no interest in going back to the village. How can I return now?”
Prerana was introduced into prostitution at the age of (17)
Prerana, who will soon turn 21 is from Nuwakot and has started a tailoring business in Kathmandu. She has completed ‘advanced course’ in fashion designing. She has even trained one dozen girls in fashion designing but she becomes emotional when she recalls her past days (four years back).
She had just sat for SLC examination. As her mother got ill, she had to earn for the latter’s treatment. She came to Kathmandu with her aunt where she was taken to work in a hotel in Balaju. She believed that her work was to ‘clean the dishes and do housekeeping’ but the owner used to say, ‘you need to fulfill the demand of clients.’ “Later, I did everything,” said Prerana.
She fled the hotel after the owner tried to rape her. She reached a massage center in search for work in Thamel. She was taught to massage, but the clients were all male and workers were all females. She had to give service to at least 14 to 15 clients a day.
She lived with four other girls like her. Mothers of small babies also used to work in the massage center. They had to keep their children in a separate room but were not permitted to look after their babies’ throughout the day even when they were hungry.
Kalash Guest House in Kalanki used to be the work station for Prapti few months ago. When asked about her work, she confidently said she ‘slept with clients.’ She has been in this business for the past three years. She is now staying in Kalanki.
According to Prapti, she earns around Rs. 4,000 to Rs.5, 000 in a day and has set a standard rate which differs per clients. She said, “If a client pays Rs.1,500, I pay the room charge, if the client pays for the room charge, I charge Rs. 1,000.”
She fled to Kathmandu, when she was studying at grade eight. She was only 15 years when she was forced into prostitution. She told her mother and brothers that she got married and had settled in Kathmandu. While working, I fell in love with one of the client, and got married. Her husband is a driver and does not want her working this way. If she finds some other job in the afternoon, she will leave prostitution.
Four years ago, Bedena was only 14 years old. While working in a hotel in Thankot, the owner asked her to deliver food to a guest in a room. The room was small and narrow; the guest caught her hand instead of plate. “Going to deliver food to the guest means to stay with the guests,” explains Bedana. It was a cabin restaurant.
One of the villagers brought her to Kathmandu telling her she would find job easily with a monthly salary of Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000. He told her that her work would be to receive the phone calls “but here he brought me to the cabin restaurant to fulfill the customer’s desires” she laments.
The frustrated Bedana left the cabin restaurant and started to work in another hotel as a dish washer. She cleans the dishes from 4 in the morning to 11 at night but she is facing a hard time washing dishes. Owner of the hotel as well as customers do not behave well with her. But those who stay with the customers would get good response from both owner and the customer, she informs.
Manu, 17, from Ramechhap used to work in a dance bar in Kathmandu three years ago. She had to work from 6 pm in the evening to 12 am mid night. She reached her rented room at 2 am. She hardly got time to sleep because she again had to wake up at 5 am in the morning to go to school. After the school time (11 o’clock), her regular chores started, she had to cook food, wash dishes, do homework and again get to the dance bar on time.
The investigative team met her at a day shelter of Bishwas Nepal, an NGO working for victims of child prostitution. Her life has changed completely now after she left working at the dance bar. She has joined college and is teaching dance lessons in many organizations and schools.
How did she arrive in Kathmandu? The story is very painful. Manu said her father left them and got married to another woman, in reaction her mother and brother came to Kathmandu along with her. Her mother, who was the only bread winner of the family felt sick all of a sudden. She had no option to pay loan which was used for treatment taken from the relatives. She then started searching for a job.
Her cousin sister asked her to join a dance bar at Teku, who was also a dancer in the same bar. She also started to make clients happy and that continued for three years, she added.
Safal was also in the day shelter with Manu which was provided by Bishwas Nepal. She is from Udayapur. She also seconded Manu and said “If we satisfy clients, we will get more tips and the owner also gets more profit.”
The Story of Safal is also as painful as Manu. She worked in a dance bar at Baipass, Balaju. She came to Kathmandu one year ago with sisters from the same village while studying in Grade 11. In the beginning, she worked in a Dohori Sajh (Nepali traditional musical evening) and later on she entered the dance bar.
She was a primary teacher in a school when she was in the village. She used to earn nearly Rs.8,000 in a month. But she came to Kathmandu with a dream to earn more money but she never thought she had to do those entire things here. She wants to return to her village but is afraid about what other villagers mightsay about her.
Baby abandoned by mother
An adolescent girl came to central office of Maiti Nepal six months ago. Her stomach was not normal like other girls there. Later they found that she was eight months pregnant. She was asked about her age but was unable to tell the exact age. Sometimes she said she was 18 years old and other time she claimed that she was 20 years old. She was unable to name the place where she came from. She claimed that the police asked to go to Maiti Nepal.
After a lot of investigations from Maiti Nepal, it was revealed that she used to work in a hotel at the bus park (Gangabu) area. During the inquiry, she revealed that she got pregnant while working in the hotel and was sent to Maiti Nepal to deliver the baby. She further informed to authority that she would receive Rs. 200,000 after givinge birth to the baby.
Senior legal officer at Maiti Nepal Uma Tamang said, “She was performing commercial sex around Bus park area. Police send her to Maiti Nepal after she was found pregnant.”
On June 2 2017, she gave birth to a baby after staying for one month in Maiti Nepal. Only then she revealed that she came from Tanahu. She ran away from her home to Kathmandu in search of better work. Later on, Maiti Nepal sent her home after they found that she had a family.
There is one another story that is painful. In mid-November 2017, Anu Bista, a nurse working for an NGO Change Nepal found a 15-year girl in a hotel who had recently given birth to a baby. Anu provides regular health check-ups service to girls working in the hotels, restaurants, and tea shops.
Anu said the girl who is in her fifteen or sixteen worked at a restaurant in Kalanki and got pregnant from a client. When asked about her baby, the girl said the organization that provided her delivery services took the baby with them and they asked me to go away. But she could not name the organization. Anu found the girl in a panic situation in the third day of her delivery with blood around her.
According to Barsha Luitel of Change Nepal, most of the girls and women involved in sex business abandoned their babies soon after delivery for financial benefits. She said there is bargaining with customers in Kalanki near overhead bridge or in a guest house..
Luitel also met a lot of pregnant women during her field study. When asked about their babies, they used to start blaming each other for selling their babies.
According to Luitel, a 16 year old girl forced into prostittion arrived at her shelter on October 24, 2017. The girl said that she had a home in Kathmandu and was studying in grade 9, she came to the shelter to deliver her baby and did not want her family to know about it. To hide her pregnancy, she first went to a medical college for abortion but the medical college asked her Rs. 150,000 for the abortion. Luitel informed that she came to the shelter to hide her pregnancy from her family. Although the girl claimed that her age was 18 – 19, she was no more than 16 years, according to Luitel.
Factory of Crime
What is the number of adolescent girls involved as sex workers in Kathmandu? The organizations working in this sector claim that there are 15,000 to 16,000 teenage girls performing forced sex but the data cannot be verified. Child Rights Activist Pramesh Pradhan said the number of adolescent sex workers are increasing but they have not been able to study and identify why such trend is increasing and where do they come from..
According to Rights Organizations, hotels, restaurants, guest house and cabin restaurants keep young girls to entertain customers. Most of them are from 12 to 17 years old. But when asked about the age, both the owners and the girls do not tell the truth. Most of the girls are from villages, they come here to find better work and gragually, owners of the hotel force them into performing sexfor their clients. The owners hire boys and aged women for cleaning and washing work.
Pramila Chapagain of Change Nepal Thamel branch said almost all the massage centers hire girls from 15to 30 years.
Advocate Uma Tamang of Maiti Nepal shared an incident from her field study. She found a small shop under a four-storey building in Dhumbarai, where the owner was engaged in such business. Her neighbors called the police after they suspected her involving in sex business. Maiti Nepal also reached there with police and found two rooms inside the house where two girls (16 — 17 years old) were staying. They were assigned to his business saying they could charge Rs.500 from each customer.
There are several organizations in Nepal working for girls’ and adolescents’ rights. Most of these organizations rescue girls and provide them with different skills, however, most of the girls do not want to take such training. They find it difficult to learn new skills and almost 90 percent girls left the training and returned back to Prostitution. The number of complaints are decreasing these days as the pimps have found new ways of convincing and retaining young girls to perform sex for money.
SP Harihar Sunuwar of Municipality Police Circle at Gongabu Bus Park said more and more girls are lured into the sex business in Kathmandu. Most of the time they raid the hotels but it is hard to find. They have no authority to arrest girls without the proof, he said.
Indira Poudel, Child Protection Officer of Women and Children Office said that even though there is no exact data, most of the sex workers are under the age of 18.
Nepal government has formulated the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Prevention Act 2065 to control the harassment of women in the workplace. According to the law, there is a provision that the Chief District Officer will chair the committee.
The committee will look after such sexual harassment cases in the work stations. But the CDO doesn’t have time to look after such cases as he will be chairman to various such organizations.
Section Officer at District Administration Office Kathmandu Parash Mani Pokharel said that they have been working on making procedure against sexual harassment in the workplace.
According to the law, having physical relations to girls below 16 years is regarded as rape. However, everyday hundreds of girls below 16 are involved in sex business in Kathmandu. The saddest part is the government has not started any work for the protection of those girls.