“Human trafficking is the second-most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and the drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day,” Sisterhood of Survivors, Kathmandu, Nepal
IN a pastel pink court building, the colour that little girls all over the world like to wear and a deep shade of irony, less than two per cent of Nepal’s human trafficking cases make up the Supreme Court caseload.
In the country’s District Court rooms, it’s less than 0.3 per cent. But there’s a blinding bullseye, one case that stands out from the rest. In March this year, in Nuwakot’s District Court in the country’s centre, one of Nepal’s sex trafficking ring leaders was sentenced to the nation’s harshest jail penalty in history.
Back in Kathmandu, in a basic brick structure adorned with hope, the women who helped put him away, have barely just begun.
There’s a slow rumble erupting around Nepal…not the kind that Mother Everest likes to display when she’s displeased with too many climbers, nor the type that destroyed Kathmandu in the 2015 earthquake.
This is the thunder of Third World feminism.
On March 23, local politician and Chair of the Dupcheswor Rural Municipality, Sun Bahadur Tamang, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking. Two other men, Shukman Lama and Tikaram Tamang, were jailed for 32 and 30 years respectively.
And it was thanks to the women of SASANE, survivors of sex trafficking and slave labour, who filed a case under the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking and Smuggling Act.
Launched 10 years ago with the assistance of a USD25,000 injection from global travel company G Adventures, SASANE rescues women who have been trafficked, and trains them to become paralegals so that they, in turn, can represent other women. Those who don’t have a basic education, are trained in valuable hospitality skills, which they share along with their stories to tourists, under the Sisterhood of Survivors project.
G Adventures Chief Experience Officer Baikuntha Simkhada (BK) says the border between landlocked Nepal and India is 1346 kilometres long, and because of open-border agreements between the two countries, passports are not checked, enabling trafficking.
“Human trafficking is massive in developing countries. In Nepal, when families have more daughters, they sell them to prostitution so the parents can get more money,” he says.
“Parents know certain parts of what happens to their daughters but they don’t know the worst because they hand them over to relatives that they trust.”
The number one market is India, where girls sell for between USD4000-5000. More than 7000 girls a year in Nepal are trafficked and more than 50 a day are trafficked across the Indian border alone. Many of them simply disappear.
“Kathmandu and other major cities of Nepal are the number two market,” BK says.
“The third biggest market is further afield in places like Malaysia and Dubai where girls are sold as ‘house workers’. This the new trick or they are also called Bollywood dancers from Nepal.
“They give lots of false promises. There are lots of illegal prostitution centres here. Sometimes they are rescued by honest customers who report to police.”
BK, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says he has asked “rude questions” of parents who sold their daughters.
“There are a lot of cultural issues around this,” he says.
“The parents didn’t know. They were looking for money. In some societies they don’t talk openly.”
At SASANE, women are fed and cared for, given medical help, and seen by social workers for counselling. Only 10 per cent of survivors file a formal complaint.
Since it was established, 249 women have been trained to become paralegals, offering free-of-charge assistance to other survivors, who they have represented in 400 court cases.
Nepal is considered the epicentre of human trafficking and the issue has only worsened since the 2015 earthquake resulted in more poverty and displacement.
SASANE aims to halt “modern day slavery” with human trafficking estimated to be a USD150 billion a year industry worldwide.
It is the second most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day.
While the average age for a trafficked woman is between 14 and 20, some are as young as 6, with more than 26 per cent of trafficked women classified as children.
Indira Gurung, one of the SASANE’s three founders, can’t remember her age and reaches for her phone to do the calculation. Nor does she want her photo taken. She’s 33, but she lost her childhood and identity a long time ago, when she was sold from her mountain village and trafficked into slave labour in Kathmandu at the age of 13.
“The agent told my parents they would send me to school and after school I would work at their home. They did not send me to school and I had to work morning to night without pay. I worked that way for five to six years,” she says.
“I had a contact with another house and went to the second home. They sent me to school but did not allow me to study and I had to work but I got a high school diploma and got a job in a restaurant and the Nepalese customers abused all the girls here.
“When customers were coming to the restaurant they wanted to do sexual abuse to us. They wanted to sleep with us and forced us to drink alcohol. The restaurant owner pushed us to go with them. They would come into a small room and close the door and force us to sit on the couch.”
After six months of sexual abuse and when she was 19, Indira contacted an organisation who helped her escape.
“At that time, we had a lot of survivors like me and we talked and learned that one cannot fight but a group can fight,” she says.
“We hired a lawyer and learned from him about our legal rights to fight trafficking and other abuse.
“When I got paralegal training, I wanted to fight the restaurant owner but he was not there anymore. He is still free, that is not good.”
Indira, who continues to face threats from human traffickers, says she did not know slavery and trafficking was illegal in Nepal before she learned her basic human rights.
“People are telling us if we share our story no one will respect us but it’s not our fault,” she says.
“Survivors need marketability skills to stand for themselves. Sometimes I am angry at my parents but that is the situation I Nepal. They are also innocent.
“I underwent counselling and art healing to learn about the power of women. This way I became empowered. I realised women have a lot of power to heal and protect other survivors.”
Indira says she prefers to inject her energy into lobbying governments, police and stake holders like NGOs.
“We are known now. Before we began our programs, many girls were missing from the mountains, now there are adolescent girls living and working on the mountains,” she says.
“One day we can stop this problem in Nepal. If the traffickers work one time, we should work two times.
“If we expand our program into 77 destinations in Nepal we can stop human trafficking.”
Each year, through their tourism projects – visitors to SASANE are taught how to make Nepal’s traditional dumpling dish of momos before being served lunch – and other collaborations, SASANE raises a massive USD85,000 to continue its work. But it’s still not enough.
SASANE has plans to open restaurants in Kathmandu’s heavy tourist area of Thamel.
“The message for all of the women in the world is that if you don’t have economic opportunities you cannot survive,” she says.
“If you don’t have skills, you have to sell your body.”
Just before our interview ends, Indira begins to cry, not over the abuse she and other women have survived, but because tour groups such as ours visit SASANE.
“Thank you, you are giving us so much strength. Many people are visiting the mountain (Everest) but not the bottom part of the mountain. We should show their stories,” she says.
“I’m not a tough woman, other women are stronger than me. I’m only trying to do my best.
“I want to be a kind-hearted woman. I just give hope and love.”
To donate to SASANE go to http://www.sasane.org.np. The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures (www.gadadventures.com) and Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com)
FOR one week every year, one magical week between Christmas and New Year, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland behind the tiny township of Woodford, exists the People’s Republic of Woodford. The Woodford Festival. If you’re looking for an antidote to a frenetic year, a chance to recharge your batteries, to find a destination that for one week only represents the way the world should be, head to “Woodfordia” where reality is suspended, if only for the briefest of times.
On this beautiful 200 hectare environmental parkland, which has withstood the scourge of floods and scorching summers, people are nicer to each other, they dance, laugh and sing. Talk to complete strangers. Engage in debates about the universe, global warming, coal seam gas, fracking, and euthanasia. Dance under huge tents, play the bongos, dine on exotic cuisine, strum guitars, learn how to paint, draw and craft things. They hug trees, hug each other. Trek to the top of the hill and honour the last sunset of the year and the first sunrise of the next. Sit under the Southern Cross and in a huge bush ampitheatre indulge in that unmistakable Australian sound emanating from new bands. Discover foreign groups. Honour the Indigenous custodians of the land in Jinibara Country on which they sit. Chat around the campsite.
If the Woodford Folk Festival isn’t Utopia, then it’s about as close to Nirvana as you will find. What other place on the planet do you line up to fill your recycled bottle with rainwater to discover the person in front has already paid for it? This is a destination where paying it forward looms large. Egos are suspended. Bonhomie reigns. The Global Goddess has been attending Woodford for about a decade, at first apprehensive that it was a bit of a hippie festival with which she would have no connection. Back in the early days I didn’t camp but drove home to Brisbane every night to the comfort of a warm shower and a soft bed. As the years wore on, I started out in a basic tent pitched in the campsite of my friends. I slept like the dead, to the sounds of distant beating drums. I awoke each morning to the cacophony of the Aussie bush.
These days, we’ve upgraded, our site becoming more sophisticated as we sleep in a campervan, our friends in a Kombi, a tarp strung between the two, mapping out our home for the week. There’s Moet in the esky and aged cheese and strawberries in the fridge. We eat fancy pancakes for breakfast. Brew real coffee. And sit down and pour over the program and plan the day ahead. This year’s program, just released late last week, promises to be a corker. Highlights of this year’s festival include singers Beth Orton, Tim Finn and Clare Bowditch; Environmentalist Professor Ian Lowe; former politician Bob Hawke and, yet-to-be-confirmed Malcolm Turnbull; comedian Denise Scott; writer Blanch D’Alpuget.
And there’s some acts always worth revisiting among the diverse performance venues on the site. The Global Goddess likes to spend her time in the Blue Lotus tent listening to talks on spirituality. Sometimes I sit on the hill and watch stunning Spaniards introduce me to fast and frenetic music with a tinge of Hawaii Five’O. Other days, it’s in Bills Bar you’ll find me, people watching as much as music listening, having a cold beer before heading down the hill to the Blues Tent. A couple of belly laughs in the Comedy Tent is also a nice way to end the evening and as I stumble back to camp to the glow of paper lanterns, I’m likely to stop several times, for a tea and a carob ball in the Chai Tent, a cold drink in the Pineapple Lounge, a bit of jazz, a circus act, some Indian or Tibetan music along the way.
Last year’s festival saw 2,200 artists and musicians perform across 25 venues to an audience of 113,000 people over that wonderful week. A steady program of tree planting over the years, in which attendees can “adopt” a tree, has resulted in the 101,000th tree planted in Woodfordia soil this year. Some years there’s dust. Others, it rains and there’s mud. Bring your gum boots. Embrace nature and creativity. Random acts of music. Robust acts of kindness. That’s my idea of Utopia. What’s yours?
For more information on the Woodford Festival please visit http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com
A Date with Destiny
DEPENDING on your point of view, we’re facing either the end of the world, or the end of the year sometime in the next two weeks. For the record, I’m going with the latter, but in any case, I thought it might be timely to provide a little festy…I mean festive, update on my dating success.
At this point I should warn you, you could stop reading now and be just as wise as those who make it to the end. Or, if you’re really bored and trying to kill those last few days at work before Christmas, please read on.
In recent weeks, and in no particular order, there’s been a host of potential new suitors, via my dating site. Let me introduce you to some of the men who’ve been contacting me. I don’t want to brag, but they’ve been practically lining up to meet me (or, in the case of the photo below which I took in Laos some years back, are much more enlightened souls than those on my dating site).
My most recent admirer has been a bloke who calls himself Rough Diamond (obviously, he doesn’t work in PR). Rough, 42, doesn’t believe in apostrophes, but does like fishing, camping and 4×4’s. He apparently cooks “a mean muffin”, has a dog called “Bundy” and listens to Guns and Roses. The real treat was Rough’s answer to the kinds of sport he liked: “If you can class drinking as a sport, I guess I play that.”
The next fella calls himself Caloundra Bloke. Caloundra reckons we have “a lot in common” but exactly what that is remains a mystery to me, for despite asking him to actually fill out some of his profile or perhaps email me with a few highlights, he refuses. I can’t help but wonder whether Calounda’s wife knows he’s on a dating site.
Andy P, also from the Sunshine Coast (ladies, there appears to be a pandemic of single men on the Sunny at the moment), actually engaged in a one-hour internet chat with me, in which he revealed he had retired at 37 and owned a yacht called Chardonnay. Andy asked me how I’d feel about a sunset sail, some seafood and some good conversation, to which I replied: “That sounds great!”. At that point, I never heard from Andy again. Now, I’m either doing something wrong, or Andy’s yacht is actually a tinnie.
Finally, there’s Tantric, who, as his name suggests is Indian. The problem with Tantric is that he also lives in India and has asked me to come and visit him which is a little outside the 50km radius I’ve stipulated on my profile. Apparently his name means “Shiva” in Sanskrit and he is looking for his “Shakthi”. I’m not entirely sure what a Shakthi is, and despite doing a bit of yoga and meditation lately, I don’t think I’m the girl for Tantric.
Which leaves me with the same old question, what to do about dating? According to a recent report in the Fraser Coast Chronicle, you now download a Virtual Boyfriend App, tailor him to meet your needs, and dump him when he doesn’t make the grade. You can even download a Wingman App, when you’re lost for the perfect pick-up line which also comes with a pep talk for when you’re feeling a bit blue in the dating department.
I guess it’s all food for thought this silly season as we entertain the prospect of exactly who, if anyone, we’ll be kissing under the mistletoe. As for me, and knowing my luck, I will finally find a boyfriend…just as the world ends.