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Case not Closed
Women Welfare Association (WWA) helps Yem Kumari Thapa, who was trafficked to a brothel in India, to rehabilitate her back into the community and make people realise that what happened was wrong.By Jannie Aasted
14. October 2004
WWA staff in Palpa
When Yem Kumari Thapa told her story to WWA she had already contacted the local police in Palpa and Butwal. She was also offered money to drop the case from a man she did not know the identity of. Apparently no further investigation was initiated. So WWA decided to follow up the case on their own. They took their member to Kathmandu, where the human rights organisation ‘Him rights’ made contact with ‘Mahila Cell’ at the Police Head Quarter. The leader Geeta Upreti suggested her case to be filed in Kathmandu in order not to have the case in Tansen where local interests could influence the case and hinder a proper registration.
Women Welfare Association (WWA) supports women’s empowerment through community groups in 10 VDC´s and Tansen municipality in Palpa district.
‘Forum for Women, Law and Development‘(FWLD) assisted Yem Kumari Thapa in having the case registered and signed by a lawyer. Furthermore she had to tell her whole story to a judge in order to have the case approved before the actual court process could begin. On June 15, 2004 the verdict was given: The sister in law, who sold her own relative, was sentenced to 8 months in prison and the two traffickers 12 years each plus a fine of 15 lakhs NRS or additional 4 years in prison.
A long journey
The progress from Yem Kumari Thapa first telling WWA about the incident in June 2003 to when justice had been done was lengthy but rewarding, according to Sussi Utoft, the Danish Development Worker at WWA. From the very beginning she was engaged in the case, which has taught her and her colleagues in WWA many lessons.
Even though the member of WWA was strongly supported by her organisation, the obstacles of going through the Nepalese court system as a victim were evident. “To tell local policemen that one has been a prostitute in Bombay and to repeat the details in front of a judge in a room full of other people is humiliating and difficult indeed”, says Sussi.
By the use of a good network Yem Kumari’s case turned out successful. But how about future cases when a victim is all alone and may be offered money to quit the case? If another case should occur, WWA would maybe not be able to take the case to Kathmandu. Still it is their hope that Yem Kumari Thapa’s victory has created a precedent, urging the local authorities to take the issue of trafficking seriously.
To combat trafficking is an immense task. But that the culprits in this case were punished is a fact that should act as a warning to future criminals throughout Nepal. And as concerns WWA, the organisation is willing to use their networks and make alliances to put pressure on the local authorities to take future cases seriously and have proper court cases on trafficking issues.
The struggle of being accepted again
And ongoing debate is the role of the NGOs when it comes to rehabilitate the women exposed to trafficking. When the community does not accept a returned woman, life is becoming a struggle. Unfortunately many women are forced to take up sex work and even go back to India.
WWA is aware of this risk, which is why they would like to offer even more support to Yem Kumari Thapa. Some awareness raising has been done in her area but still the outspoken support for her in Chidipani is next to non-existent. President of WWA Dhana Paudel is concerned about this: “MS Nepal has helped us pay the lawyer expenses for Yem Kumari. But how to support her further is the main challenge, we now need help to face.”
Workshop on women trafficking
In fact WWA has already taken up the challenge. The organisation has lately made contact to ‘Maiti Nepal’ – an NGO working to prevent trafficking and to rehabilitate the victims. After a visit in their branch office in Bhairahawa, Yem Kumari Thapa has agreed to be involved as a resource person. For a one month period she will join the staff from Maiti Nepal and help prevent Nepali girls crossing the Indian border at Sunauli. Maiti Nepal will also cooperate with WWA on awareness raising in Palpa district in order to enhance the involvement of other organisations and local people in the fight against trafficking. And within a short time WWA will facilitate a workshop on trafficking in the community. Sussi Utoft elaborates:
“Actually a workshop had been planned but due to the conflict we have had to postpone it some months. Now we are working on having the people gathered again. The issues will be general information on girl trafficking and what the stakeholders can do in order to prevent trafficking and help the victims. We would also like to initiate a discussion on the role of local culture and values when we approach the subject.”
WWA hopes to make people aware that girl trafficking is a crime and that the victim is NOT the criminal. According to Sussi Utoft it seems that many locals look upon Yem Kumari Thapa as the guilty one and not as the actual victim she is. On the same hand the families of the guilty persons may feel they have lost some dignity which is necessary to give them back. To help the discussion moving the workshop will be facilitated by the help of a resource person from ‘Him Rights’.
The estimated number of trafficked Nepalese girls and women each year is 12.000 according to ILO (International Labour Organisation).
Based on their practical experience ‘Maiti Nepal’, howeever, considers the number to be 5-7.000 each year. Women being trafficked from Palpa, Syangja and Gulmi districts are increasing rapidly according to ‘Maiti Nepal’s branch office in Bhairahawa.
Police Head Quarter in Kathmandu registered 56 cases of women trafficking in the whole of Nepal in the period from 2003-2004.