Every year 5,000 to 7,000 Nepali girls, some as young as 9 years of age, are sold to human traffickers around the world but education is the key to stopping it.
The girls are sold within Nepal but also to India, Kenya, China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and African countries for sexual exploitation, cheap labour and organ transplants.
“We are the poorest country in South Asia and they being sold because of poverty, they are not always aware they are being trafficked and literacy rates among women are low,” said Rupa Rai, Head of Gender and Education for Caritas Nepal.
“Only 26 per cent of women are literate, they are very easily lured,” she told a Caritas “Women of the World” function in Sydney.
She said Nepal’s seven borders with India are open so travel across the border is easy for traffickers where no passports are needed. One quarter of Nepali people live on less than $1.25 a day and 76 per cent of the population rely on agriculture to make a living.
“Poverty makes women and children vulnerable to violence and human trafficking,” she said.
“People are always looking for a better life. Traffickers tell them they will make money and help their family.”
Caritas is one of the largest humanitarian networks in the world and gives training and education to grow the capacity of the Nepali living in rural areas where women are more vulnerable.
“We have managed to rescue, counsel and rehabilitate 172 Nepali girls from Indian brothels back to their families,” said Ms Rai. “Now they have become survivors.”
She said Caritas programs build up the rescued girls’ leadership qualities by providing training at a rehabilitation centre that has been operating in Nepal for four years. She said one of the survivors works in the resource centre and Ms Rai takes her to the villages to educate other young women about human trafficking.
“We are also educating the farmers, who are all men, to save their daughters,” said Ms Rai who has been working with Caritas since the 1990’s on programs that focus on stopping human trafficking.
Speaking about the devastation of the April earthquake she said the people are still very scared.
The nation has 75 districts and the earthquake that struck on 25 April at Midday has affected 39 of them.
“We were just holding each other, it took one minute. It was 7.6, then 6.7, then 7.6 magnitude.
“That night we slept on the ground we were very, very frightened, we borrowed some plastic, some carpets and some of us slept inside the cars. We felt very strong solidarity to our neighbours, some people brought tea, some brought rice and some brought eggs and we ate together, we slept together, we prayed together – even though we were Hindu, Buddhist, Muslims, Christians and Catholic. We all expressed our faith,” she said.
Ms Rai said life for women was a struggle in Nepal because they have to get up at 3am and look after the cattle, family, the garden, the fields and then cook.
“She is the one to eat last,” said Ms Rai.
At the end of her presentation, Ms Rai sang a hymn devoted to Mary, because Mary’s month is May.
On 1 January 2015, Pope Francis commemorated the World Day of Peace with the theme “slaves no more, brothers and sisters”.
Then, on 8 February, 2014 the Holy Father held the First International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, on the feast day of St Josephina Bakhita who was born in Sudan, sold into slavery, then freed and became a Canossian sister.
The United Nations will hold a World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July and Nepal has its ninth Anti-Human Trafficking Day on 5 September.
Caritas said human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal business in the world after drugs and arms. Figures from the Vatican show the trade in 2.5 million people annually generates US$32 Billion.