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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 14:33 GMT
Frontier sex-trade vigil
India-Nepal border
Many women have passed through this border
By Daniel Lak at Kakarvita, Nepal

Nepal's border with India is long and porous. The two countries allow the relatively free movement of goods and people.

With one exception - young women may not cross into India without an intense grilling from unique border guards working for the anti sex-trade organisation, Maiti Nepal.


You can tell when someone is lying or frightened

Border guard, Neesha
At Kakarvita, the most easterly frontier post in Nepal, the guards are 21 year old Geetha, and 19 year Neesha.

Both escaped from brothels in Bombay, where up to 25,000 Nepalese women are enslaved, victims of the dreadful cross border traffic in human lives.

The border guarding operation is a joint effort by the government and Maiti Nepal to put a stop to the trade.

Rickshaw
Each and everyone is checked
"We stop every car, every rickshaw. Girls are asked, where they're from, where they're going and how well they know the people they're travelling with. You can tell when someone is lying or frightened," says Neesha.

The border police openly admire the work done by the two women from Maiti Nepal.

A senior inspector just posted to the frontier boasts, "they're my best officers."

Interrogated

It's midday and Geetha has spotted a group of seven women walking through the border check point.

They have one young girl with them who looks no more than 14 years old, as well as a man who looks like he is from India.

The two young border guards get help from their supervisor, Maiti Nepal administrator, Govinda Ghimire, to question the group.

Maiti border guards
Neesha and Geeta keep a close watch
Neesha and Geetha fire questions at the remaining women.

"Why are you going to India. Who is the little girl? How long have you known that man?"

Each picks someone to pay close attention to, so they can watch for slips or inconsistencies in the story.

Mr Ghimire asks the young teenager what she's doing, and the man is taken away for a moment by the police.

But all their stories seem consistent, and after a lecture about the perils of taking young people out of the country, the group continues on a day trip to India.

Sordid trade

"It's the way they dress, or wear make-up. The way they won't meet your eyes," says Geetha.

"They've been told by the traffickers that we're their enemies and their afraid of us.


Every girl rescued by Maiti Nepal is a lost life reclaimed

Govinda Ghimire, Maiti
"They think they're going to get a job in India so we ask them over and over again if they've ever heard of the sex trade in Bombay. They never have."

Activists estimate that 150,000 girls and women from Nepal have been taken up by the flesh trade, often sold to traffickers by family members or husbands.

Tens of thousands have contracted HIV or have died of Aids.

Survivors are shunned by relatives and people in their home village, even if they have made a miraculous escape.

Reskilled

Govinda Ghimire makes all welcome at Maiti Nepal's transit home and separate hospice for the ill in Kakarvita.

"I see myself as a security guard," he says.

"Every trafficker sent to jail is a blow for justice. Every girl rescued by Maiti Nepal is a lost life reclaimed."

Woman sewing
Useful skills are taught at the transit centre
Life at the transit home is gentle and every attempt is made to create a loving environment.

The girls learn sewing or weaving, but they also take time for singing and dancing - all part of Mr Ghimire's rehabilitation process.

Vigilance at the border goes on all day, every day.

Geetha and Neesha have found two young women they believe could be bound for the flesh trade in India.

One says she is just married but doesn't know her husband's name. The other is pregnant and is probably going to India for an abortion.

After that, Geetha tells her, she'll be sent to Bombay, if she survives.

The two are taken to Maiti Nepal for a meal, one weeping with embarrassment and shame.

Neesha turns back to the frontier barrier as Geetha takes them away.

"Back to work," she tells the policeman at the border gate. "We can't just stand around doing nothing."

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See also:

26 Feb 00 | South Asia
US highlights human trafficking
03 Feb 99 | South Asia
A 'trade in human misery'
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