/** headlines: 131.0 **/
** Topic: Nepalese Girls Sold Into Sex Slavery **
** Written 9:18 AM Feb 10, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
Kathmandu - Thousands of Nepalese children are being sold into sexual slavery by parents eager to cash in on the lust among Indian men for their daughters' delicate good looks. The children, who cost pimps less than a buffalo, are paying a heavy price for the trade.
Infected with the "Bombay disease" - what Nepalese villagers call Aids - many of the young girls were last week staggering back to their homes after being freed from "supermarket" brothels - cavernous halls in Indian cities filled with up to 1,500 girls who are forced to service clients every 15 minutes for 50p a time. Indian men are said to be particularly attracted to the pale skin of the Himalayan girls.
Ignoring the appalling health risks to their own children, many villagers believe there is nothing wrong with what they do. Bishnu Tamang admitted selling two daughters into brothels. "If our boys can become soldiers in foreign armies like the Gurkhas why can't our girls work in foreign lands?" he asked. Kicked onto the streets of India's big cities when pimps noticed the signs of Aids, some girls were carried home by porters because they were too weak to walk up the mountain paths to their villages high in the Himalayas.
Nobody knows how many have been infected. What is beyond dispute is that few received a warm welcome on their return.
Amid fears that the disease could spread through remote communities simply by touch, the children are shunned by villagers and their own parents because they are seen as "India's soiled goods".
Even ancient burial rights are not granted to children when they die of Aids. People refuse to join in the ritual of the entire village washing the corpse, fearing they will catch the disease.
News has reached the brothels of India's big cities about the hostility the children are facing at home. Some Aids victims among the 200,000 Nepalese girls working in India have chosen to die in poverty on the streets.
"In the villages, they have no healthcare, no friends," said Ghetta Bhave, an Indian Aids worker. "They will have to work even when they are sick. Some want to die here - with their friends."
Sold for z300 by her parents into sexual slavery in Bombay when she was 12, Kanchi was HIVpositive by the age of 18. Gaunt, her eyes bloodshot, she and another sick girl look after each other in the city. They will not go home.
"I don't want to go back," added Sobha, a plump 20yearold sold into the sex trade after growing up in eastern Nepal. "I live here; these are my friends. After girls are here a few years, most of them don't want to go back."
Many believe it is their destiny to become prostitutes. "As a child, I knew I would some day come to the brothels," said Devi, another child prostitute, working in Bombay. "My cousin was in Bombay; girls from my village were there."
As the sick return home or opt to take their chances on the streets, "fresh" children are recruited from the same villages. Up to 10,000 Nepalese girls are sold to India each year. Some are abducted by force; some are tricked with promises of work. But most are sold by their parents. The prettiest child can fetch up to z400 - roughly the price of a video recorder.
Some children end up working closer to home, crammed into brothels in the shadow of Mount Everest in Kathmandu. At least 70,000 are locked up in the city's seedy redlight district.
Thugs are hired to make sure escape is impossible. Each prostitute has to give their pimp half of all earnings, plus a z1 fee for cleaning the mattresses they are forced to use for sex.
Attempts to crack down on the trade have failed. In some parts of Nepal, selling children is seen as an honourable tradition: Tamang Highlanders, fairskinned and delicate, have for centuries been sold as concubines for royalty at the Nepalese court.
Many health workers believe the children cannot be saved after they have been in a brothel for more than six months. "By that time they have got used to this life," said a doctor, adding that some have also never forgiven their parents.
There are suspicions that Indian and Nepalese police are colluding in the trafficking of children. Official complicity in the industry has been denied by both governments, yet few of those involved are ever arrested.
Relief groups have launched schemes staffed by law students, who trek from village to village informing women and girls of their rights to resist rape, violence and trafficking.
There is only one problem about informing the next generation of victims about their rights: their parents refuse to accept they have any.