December 1, 2010
Health Impacts on Trafficked Victims in Nepal: Call for Government Intervention
Human trafficking has been defined by the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons as the “…recruitment, transportation or harboring of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deceptions for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including prostitution”(2). According to U.S State Department, it is estimated that some 10,000 to 15,000 women and girls from Nepal are trafficked to India every year ( Ruffins ). Therefore, this is a very complicated and multifaceted-issue faced by Nepal. According to Maiti Nepal, a prominent non- governmental organization (NGO) in Nepal, traffickers tempt girls with phony jobs in Gulf countries and Southeast Asia and trick them into prostitution (“Traffickers Exploit”).
Trafficking often has a major impact on health and well being of women. Women experience various form of physical, sexual and psychological abuse as soon as they become a sub-ordinate group. In case of Nepalese women, it is even more sensitive as the trafficked women are mostly illiterate and poor; thus unable to defend themselves despite government’s legislations against trafficking (Poudel and Carryer 74). What are the various social, physical and mental health risks for these innocent women and girls and what steps should be taken to attend to their health needs? Both government of Nepal and non-governmental organizations working in Nepal should equally address and fulfill the special and complex health care needs of this vulnerable population. Trafficked women and girls are subject to countless health risks in every stage of the trafficking process, from departure to the trafficked destination and even after being returned or rescued from such destinations back to Nepal. According to Nepal’s National Centre for AIDS and STD control, 60-70 percent of prostitutes returning from Indian brothels carry HIV or other STD’s (Poudel and Carryer 75). Recent evidence shows a high rate of 38% of HIV prevalence in these women and girls (Silverman et al. 932). While HIV infection is one of the main threats faced by these women, diseases like post-traumatic disorder, gynecological infections, sexually transmitted infections(STIs), tuberculosis and many others cannot be ignored either (Gupta et al. 30). A recent study conducted in Indian brothels upon such sex trafficked women and girls for HIV vulnerabilities revealed that the main reason of them being at many health risks is that they lack autonomy, the lack of independence and freedom. They also identified five themes that increased their vulnerabilities to HIV infection which are the use of violent rape as a means of initializing sex work, the inability to refuse sex, the inability to use condoms or convince clients to use them, the use of substance as a coping tactic and the limited access to health care (33). Since, the trafficked victims have no control over their own bodies and are treated as mere commodities by brothel managers and traffickers, they become more vulnerable to physical and sexual diseases. Findings of another study conducted to investigate co-infection of HIV with other sexually transmitted diseases among 246 sex-trafficked women and girls from Nepal revealed that HIV infected sex-trafficked victims were more likely to be infected from other STIs specifically syphilis and hepatitis B than those not infected with HIV( Silverman et al. 933). This indicates how these innocent victims can get in to a vicious circle of health risks one after another. These women and girls are equally prone to mental health risks but very little has been done to address the psychological aspect of their journey through this heinous sex trade (Tsutsumi et al 1842). To draw attention to mental health status of such women, a recent study