It’s six months since a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, killing nearly 10 thousand people and leaving 1 million more displaced.
The natural disaster hit the economy hard, destroying many livelihoods.
Today the tremors have stopped but the aftershock is still being felt, especially by young Nepalese women – lured into the sex industry in neighbouring India.
In a special cross border report, Rajan Parajuli and Jasvinder Sehgal investigate on the ground.
Here in a southern suburb of Kathmandu, people are still clearing away rubble from the quake.
On one side, a building is gauged open and I can see the destroyed interior, beds, muddy cupboards and clothes in disarray.
At the corner of the street, one house is being rebuilt.
Twenty one year old Manisha Pariyar is carrying a pile of bricks on her back.
“It’s difficult to work 12 hours a day. I can’t survive even after all this work,” she says, “All the savings have gone after the earthquake and rent has increased a lot.”
Manisha and her younger sister Alina are employed on the construction site on a daily basis, but they are far away from having their own house again.
They each earn 40 dollars a month, and their expenses are almost double.
Their father has severe asthma and they barely make enough money to pay for his medication.
Alina says maybe she’ll have better chances somewhere different.
“I spoke to a man in my neighbourhood to help me find a good place for a job abroad. He promised to find one for me,” explains Alina, “Maybe if I save I can go abroad. I can build my home, and my life will be much better than today.
Since the earthquake this April, more 800,000 people have been forced in to temporary housing.
Charimaya Tamang has just returned from a remote village in Nepal where the earthquake wiped out almost everything.
Charimaya was rescued from an Indian brothel 10 years ago and is now an anti-trafficking activist.
She says the earthquake has put enormous pressure on families – with some even forcing their daughters into sex work across the border.
“Many families in the affected areas are forced to sleep in only one room. The girls have to share room with parents, brothers and sometimes with relatives,” she says, “Sometimes they are being abused, these all reasons that are pushing them out of their home.”
The United Nations estimates that between 12-15,000 young women from Nepal are trafficked to India every year – forced to work in brothels.
But since the quake, touts and traffickers have take advantage on the economic vulnerability of Nepali families – seeing it as an opportunity to profit from the sex trade.
On Rupehdia, the busy road that leads to the Nepal-India border, my colleague Jasvinder investigates.
I’m here at security checkpoint on the Indian side of the border and the police have stopped one couple for questioning.
The police have pulled them aside and are interrogating them separately, and asking them what they are doing in India.
They have just accused the man of trafficking the young woman to India – but he swears it is not true.
“She is my wife; I married her the day before yesterday here in the Bageshwari temple,” he says, “The proof of the marriage is the wedding necklace and her red bindi. I don’t have anything more to prove my wedding.”
But when the police ask her, they get a different story. She says her companion is not her husband, but her brother.
I’ve been here at the border for 12 hours and there have been two other similar incidents, of police stopping suspected cases of sex trafficking.
And I am at just one of 26 official checkpoints between India and Nepal – there are hundreds of other unofficial points where there are no police and customs officers.
To find out more about the problem I spoke to VH Rao Deshmukh, the Inspector General of Armed Police Force (SSB).
He told me about the number of reported cases this month.
“We rescued around 22 women and 29 children,” says Rao, “Prior to earthquake we have not rescued even half of the figure, which I have given you right now. We have also arrested 31 males and two females.”
Back in Nepal, I meet 19-year-old Manisha Tamang.
She was rescued from an Indian brothel seven years ago and has since returned to her home in Sindhupalchok.
The district has the highest number of trafficking cases in Nepal.
Since the quake her parents have been putting more pressure on her to leave the village.
“I don’t have friends of my own age. Either they are married or have gone abroad. My parents always complain that everyone has already gone out and are earning money. ‘But why not you?’ That really tortures me, and my friends say the same thing,” she says, “I don’t want to go abroad because it’s risky.”
For Nepali women, being trafficked could see them lured into a wider sex trafficking web.
Anuradha Koirala, the founder of the Maiti Nepal, the largest NGO working to rescue women from trafficking, says the Nepali sex rackets are increasingly global.
“Now they are making India and Sri-Lanka a transit for other countries like Iraq, Tanzania, Nairobi, Syria, Lebanon,” she says, “They go to Delhi, stay there for sometimes... Here they are asked every where, they say they are going Sri Lanka as tourist. From Sri Lanka they go to Dubai. From Dubai they go to Iraq.”
With so many young Nepali women are at risk, rights activists say it’s time to crack down on the cross border trade.
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