© UNICEF Nepal/2015/NewarSapana – 15, was nearly taken to India by a man who promised her a job after the 25 April earthquake in Nepal. A local NGO working to prevent trafficking rescued her at the border.
By Naresh Newar
A young Nepalese girl about to be taken to India is rescued at the border – one of hundreds who have been saved from trafficking since the devastating 25 April earthquake.
KATHMANDU, NEPAL/ HONG KONG, 24 July 2015 – Sapana*, 15, still shudders when she thinks of how she was almost tricked into going to India.
“I will never forget that day when I was about to make a horrible mistake due to my desperate situation,” she says.
Sapana was just 13 when she stopped going to school in her village of Chhatiwan, in Nepal’s Makwanpur district, and instead went to work in a carpet factory 130 km away in Kathmandu, in order to help support her family.
The working conditions at the factory were brutal. Sapana laboured 16 hours a day, from 4 a.m. till late at night. If she and her peers fell asleep during work, the employers had cruel methods to keep them awake, such as rubbing chili powder on their eyes.
Sapana was desperate to flee the factory, and she was not alone. Many girls like her, working to support their impoverished families, also wanted to run away, but with the factory guards keeping a strict watch over them, it seemed impossible.
The earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April was devastating, killing thousands and leaving many more homeless and in desperate need of help.Sapana and her fellow workers, however, already living in a desperate situation, saw it in a different way – as an opportunity. With the factory building collapsed and all the girls sheltered nearby in a tented camp, escape seemed easy.
Sapana and an 18-year old co-worker didn’t think twice when a man started befriending them. Over the next few days, he won their trust, and he offered them work in Nepalgunj, a city in Banke district on the Nepal-India border. He told them they would be safe from the earthquake and there were job opportunities in a hotel.
But Sapana started to panic when they arrived at the border near Nepalgunj, about 500 km south of Kathmandu. Her nervousness seems to have been visible on her face, for it was noticed by a team of border monitors working with Maiti Nepal, an NGO partner of UNICEF Nepal. The girls were taken into protective custody and given shelter by Maiti Nepal.
Sapana provided the police with information about the factory, which helped them rescue the other underage girls who had been working there.
As she stares out of the window in the shelter at Maiti Nepal, Sapana says, “I get scared thinking about what would happen if we had crossed the border. I nearly fell into a trap. But at least I and my friend are safe now. That makes me happy.”
A team effort
Since the 25 April earthquake, Maiti Nepal has been able to intercept 395 girls and women, about half of them underage, along the Nepal-India border.“We have scaled up our border activities in twelve key strategic areas, with UNICEF’s help,” says Biswo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal.
A crucial part of UNICEF’s support has been to help Maiti Nepal strengthen its networks with government child protection agencies, the Nepal Police and other organizations working in the protection sector.
“Since our collaboration, there has been very good coordination at many levels, and we are all learning a great deal from each other,” Mr. Khadka says.
A new life
Sapana will soon begin vocational training through the support of Maiti Nepal. She has chosen to pursue work as a beautician, which she hopes will give her a means of earning a livelihood.Sapana’s concern at the moment is for her 10-year-old sister, who is still back in the village.
“I do not want her to go through the same fate as me,” Sapana says. “My father always made me feel very unworthy, to the point that I had to take the decision to show my worth by leaving school to earn money. So I wonder about how to help her.”
Grateful to be safe now, Sapana is full of praise for the efforts of Maiti Nepal for rescuing her.
She is also one of the few who is thankful for the earthquake.
“My escape from the drudgery would not have been possible without the quake,” she says.