A district court in Nepal has sentenced a sex trafficker to 170 years in prison, the longest sentence in the country’s history.
Bajir Singh Tamang, 37 years old, was convicted of trafficking poor teenage girls from rural areas to India and the Middle East to work in the sex trade with promises of legitimate jobs.
Tamang’s own daughter was even forced into prostitution.
Nepali prosecutor Krishna Jung Shah told Agence France-Presse that six girls under the age of 16 has initially pressed charges against Tamang.
He was charged for illegally recruiting the girls, selling them to Indian brothels and also running a prostitution ring, Shah said.
The trafficking of Nepali sex workers has long plagued the Himalayan kingdom. Nepali women, especially those of the Tamang ethnic group, have long been prized for their fair complexions and delicate features.
As long ago as 1995, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the western human rights organization, described the status of Nepali sex workers as tantamount to slavery.
In a report entitled ‘Rape for Profit: Trafficking of Nepali Girls and Women to Indian Brothels,’ the group wrote: “Held in debt bondage for years at a time, they are raped and subjected to severe beatings, exposure to AIDS, and arbitrary imprisonment. Both the Indian and Nepali governments are complicit in the abuses suffered by trafficking victims.”
HRW specifically discussed the grim situation in the metropolis of Mumbai, where up to half of the city’s (then) 100,000 brothel workers were believed to have originated in Nepal.
“Twenty percent of Bombay's brothel population is thought to be girls under the age of eighteen, and at least half of them may be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV),” the report noted.
“Many of the victims are young women from remote hill villages and poor border communities of Nepal who are lured from their villages by local recruiters, relatives or neighbors promising jobs or marriage, and sold to brokers who deliver them to brothel owners in India. Their purchase price, plus interest, becomes the ‘debt’ that the women must work to pay off -- a process that can stretch on indefinitely. Most women have no idea how much they ‘owe’ or the terms for repayment.”
In 1997, an article in Time magazine suggested that 10,000 Nepali girls between the ages of nine and 16 were sold to brothels in India annually, making it the busiest traffic of slaves on the planet. Many contracted AIDS from their forced labor and returned to their native country to die, where they were rejected.
The U.S. State Department currently estimates that up to 15,000 Nepali girls are forced into sex work in India each year.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.