Approximately 20,000 girls per year are trafficked out of Nepal into sexual slavery.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
The country Nepal, situated between China and India, is known for its searing poverty. But it has one very profitable export: young girls.
In an effort to combat the trafficking of approximately 20,000 girls-some as young as five years old, most being sold into sexual slavery-out of Nepal, the nongovernmental organization Maiti Nepal will host a fundraiser in Malibu on Tuesday.
Cohosted by Susan Stiffelman, a local family therapist, Maiti Nepal will present a screening of the documentary “Tin Girls,” and its founder, Anuradha Koirala, will speak.
Local filmmaker and human rights activist Chelo Alvarez-Stehle, also cohosting the event, said she became aware of the plight of the Nepalese girls in 1997 when visiting the Himalayan nation. A journalist who has written about the trafficking of women, from Korea’s “comfort women” to the Australian aborigines’ “Stolen Generation,” Alvarez-Stehle recognized all too clearly the cyclic hopelessness that poverty forces on the Nepalese society.
“I met a woman who had been trafficked to Bombay,” Alvarez-Stehle said in an interview with The Malibu Times. “There is a lot of corruption with the new government (in 2008, Nepal established a democratic republic after centuries of monarchal rule). Most people live on about a dollar a day. Because they are so poor, the situation is very detrimental for social services.”
In 1993, Koirala, who is a former English professor, established a small house in Kathmandu to combat the sex trafficking of her country women and girls. According to statistics released by Maiti Nepal (in Nepali, “Maiti” means a girl’s home prior to her marriage), women are second-class citizens in that country, both legally and socially. Literacy among women is about 30 percent and most of its approximately four million girls between eight and 18 are at risk of being trafficked.
Girls are kidnapped by agents promising foreign “employment” or are drugged and whisked out of the country. They wake up in brothels in India, forced to service more than 20 men a day. Few escape.
“Society places a lot of constrictions on women and holds them in very low value,” Alvarez-Stehle said. “So they are only seen fit for farm work or household chores. Nepal doesn’t see women as a valuable resource.”
To help these women, for the past 17 years Koirala has managed to establish not only safe houses, but also intervention posts at border crossings where anyone traveling with young women or girls is intercepted and interrogated. Girls who are then taken into shelters are trained in cooking, sewing, handicrafts and other skills that will allow them to earn a living for themselves.
In an e-mail from Nepal, Koirala said, “The economic condition [here] is very ghastly, with a majority of the population living below the poverty line. Consequently, it leads to illiteracy, which is the root cause of human trafficking. Currently Nepal is undergoing a major political deadlock and we are not receiving much-needed support from the government. With support, the issue of human trafficking can be dealt with vigorously and much could be done with preventive aspects of trafficking.”
Maiti Nepal has allocated significant resources to carrying out awareness campaigns through street drama, radio and television shows, distributing information material, and educating students and parents in remote villages.
“Maiti Nepal works within societal structures,” Alvarez-Stehle said. “They will go into a village and hire the head woman to intervene and educate the village’s women.”
The documentary to be screened at the fundraiser, “Tin Girls,” was produced in Spain by Canal Plus in 2003 after the filmmakers read articles Alvarez-Stehle had written about trafficking. Directed by Miguel Bardem, a cousin of Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, the film was one of the Valor Humano (Human Value) series that profiled human rights abuses worldwide.
After becoming involved with Maiti Nepal, Alvarez-Stehle traveled several times to Nepal, eventually adopting a young girl from Koirala’s children’s home. Sangita Stehle, a 7th-grader at Malibu New Roads School, will be acting as master of ceremonies at the event.
Koirala has been nominated by CNN for an award as one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of the Year (to vote for her, visit www.maitinepal.org), an honor to be determined the eve of Thanksgiving.
While Maiti Nepal has made progress in bringing “dignity and hope” to the women and girls of Nepal, vast changes remain to be seen.
Koirala wrote, “The scenario of human trafficking is still very frightening and it will remain so until each individual in the world awakens with a conscience that trafficking is the most inhumane act toward mankind.”
The Maiti Nepal benefit takes place Tuesday, Nov. 23, 7 p.m. at the Malibu West Beach Club, 30756 West Pacific Coast Hwy. The recommended minimum donation is $50. Light refreshments will be served and there will be a Silent Auction (donations for the Silent Auction are still be accepted). Reservations can be made by e-mailing Alvarez-Stehle at email@example.com.