It has been three months since the earthquake and you’re still huddled in a makeshift tent with your family and strangers. The monsoon has soaked everything you own and you often endure episodes of PTSD that cause you to flee from your support network. You are exhausted, hungry and stressed for your family. You have no work and nowhere to go, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change.
…So when a charming stranger approaches you with promises of proper shelter, food, a stable job and a brighter future for you and your family… you have renewed hope!
You give this new ‘friend’ your personal information and identification, follow them, and listen to their instructions. When you start to doubt them… your hunger and hope overrides rationality.
You have become the perfect target for trafficking.
It has been 3 months since the 7.9 and 6.5 magnitude earthquakes shocked Nepal and brought the country to its knees. Immediate international response involved media coverage, charities calling for donations, and the social media campaign #prayforNepal. In the aftermath, 500 000 homes were destroyed, 270 000 homes damaged, 16 800 people injured and nearly 9 000 were killed.
Although the country is beginning to lift itself out of the immediate destruction and devastation from the earthquake, there is another tragedy that it spreading amidst desperate families and communities living in the aftermath… the buying and selling of people.
Nepal is no stranger to the tragedy of trafficking; the UN estimates that approximately 15 000 girls and young women are abducted every year from Nepal dispersed to South Africa, to South Korea, and to Indian Brothels, which are one of the biggest sexual slavery industries in the world.
But in the wake of the Nepal Earthquake, that number is set to rise. There have already been numerous reports on the prolific increase in trafficking of children and women. Both from INGOs including UNICEF, and media outlets SBS news , Time, and National Post.
What is being done to stop human trafficking in Nepal?
When I interviewed Jamuna Acharya (above), who works for ‘Tiny Hands International’ at Nepal’s border to India, she mentioned that when Nepali women are rescued, many have contracted HIV and believe that they cannot return home due to shame and stigma. They therefore go back to their traffickers to work because they fear they have nothing else to contribute to society. Some women even become recruiters themselves, and perpetuate this trafficking cycle.
This suggests that rehabilitating survivors requires policies and social stereotypes to be challenged on a domestic level. In the quest to understand strategies of prevention and cure, I chatted with Melanie Ewert from ‘Trade for Freedom’ in Nepal. Mel works with a variety of Nepali women in her business, some of whom are survivors of trafficking. We chatted about her inside perspective on what it takes to break the cycle of trafficking, and how the post-earthquake conditions can be handled.
It’s a big question, but what do you think is the most effective way to fight and prevent trafficking in Nepal?
I think fighting and preventing trafficking in Nepal is a matter of addressing the root causes of vulnerability – such as extreme poverty.
However, poverty is a complex issue that has many dimensions. We first think of poverty in terms of economic standing but when we dig deeper we find that it is intensely relational as well. Poverty is about living off of less than $2 a day – yes – but it is also about broken relationships and poor or non-existent social safety nets.
How do we manage the vulnerability and ‘poverty of relationships’ that an earthquake can bring, which traditional sources of ‘international aid and emergency relief’ often fail address?
A great place to start is empowerment through ethical job creation that will help improve a family’s economic condition. These jobs often provide counseling services that help women work on rebuilding healthy relationships, as well as safety nets for their families such as savings plans and educational scholarships.
If a woman and her family are thriving, she is much less likely to be lured into trafficking versus a woman who feels like she has no other option.
What are 4 ways people can take action right now?
1.) Buy one of our Infinity Scarfs
Each scarf made with up-cycled silken saris by women made vulnerable after the recent Nepal Earthquake. Your purchase helps them rebuild their lives by securing their jobs and safety in the long-run.
2.) Make yourself aware of the issue. Educate yourself.
Determine where you may be fuelling trafficking and change your own behaviour – such as your purchasing habits. We can fuel exploitation through buying cheap clothing or accessories that were manufactured by men, women, even children forced to work long hours, with threats to their safety, and earning less than their local minimum wage. Check out the campaigns and educational resources from ‘Stop the Traffik’ and VGen, who have just published this great new video, ‘How to create an ethical community’.
3.) Find an organisation or social business that is working to stop trafficking
Join them in their campaigns. Advocate with them on social media. Make purchases that provide ethical jobs. Give funds towards social safety net programs.
4.) Make time in our busy lives to make wise choices.
I often fall short here myself but if we continue to encourage one another in these efforts and actually take the actions we know are right, we will collectively make a substantial difference in the lives of the most vulnerable. Our friends at Good on You are also developing a new app that’s your very own ‘ethical shopping assistant’.
These issues will never be addressed easily, but we need to start somewhere.
I’ve seen the difference – it manifests itself in a dignified joy on women’s faces when they’re able to boast about the life they’re making for their children – it’s beautiful!
Further Ways To Take Action
- Learn more about the trafficking of Nepal citizens at the Indian border, and donate to Tiny Hands International
- Sadly, child labor is also on the rise after the earthquake. Check out VGen’s #EndChildLabour campaign.
- Watch our new online video series #FOLLOWFUZZ, taking you around the world in the fight against modern day slavery with ‘Stop the Traffik’ Australia co-director Fuzz Kitto.