Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal

by American Himalayan Foundation
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Stop Girl Trafficking in Nepal
Dr. Aruna Uprety (right) with Sunita & her family
Dr. Aruna Uprety (right) with Sunita & her family

This is a story about two girls escaping from abusive homes where their safety and futures were threatened. With help from SGT, Sunita and Asmita have been able to leave the violence behind. They are both expanding their horizons by pursuing their education and are now living safer, happier lives. 

Sunita

Sunita’s mother died when she was only 8 years old. After that, her father became an alcoholic, started beating her, and sometimes wouldn’t come home at all.When the SGT team first met her, she was malnourished, and some neighbors were helping take care of her. She was enrolled in SGT, but after a few months, they learned that she was sent from her home in the district of Makwanpur to live with family in Surkhet. The SGT team was, of course, worried.

After a lot of hard work, they tracked her down. Dr. Aruna Uprety went to Surkhet and, with help from the local NGO partner, was able to locate and meet with Sunita. She was happy to find that Sunita was well taken care of by her aunt. Sunita is now in grade 2, and the SGT alums in the area stop by regularly to check on her. She said she is happy living with her aunt and cousin and doesn’t want to return to her father’s house.

Asmita

Asmita, 19, comes from an indigenous community of Lalitpur. Her mother left and remarried because of her father’s abuse. Asmita and her siblings went to live with her maternal grandmother, where she took primary responsibility for the household. Her father kept pushing her to leave school, and Asmita was on the verge of dropping out when she was enrolled in SGT with help from a local teacher. Despite waking up at 3am to finish housework and take care of the younger children before going to school every day, she never gave up and studied hard. She was determined to complete her education and become an independent woman

Asmita got good grades, passed grade 12, and became a Friday teacher. She then got a scholarship to learn advanced Japanese language from a Japanese organization. Currently she is doing her second year in Bachelor of Management and teaching Japanese. She now earns about $300 per month, supports her siblings’ education, and also helps her grandmother with expenses.

The paths that Sunita and Asmita are on are made smoother through the empowerment and support SGT offers these girls. They are so grateful for the opportunity to not only imagine, but also build new lives for themselves. 

Asmita is well on her way to a bright future
Asmita is well on her way to a bright future
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Education teaches girls about the world, their own
Education teaches girls about the world, their own

Dr. Aruna Uprety, the founder of STOP Girl Trafficking, lights up when she’s talking in front of a classroom full of girls and their parents. She wants them to know, in their bones, the terrible danger of to girls of being trafficked into lives of abuse and despair and how it can be prevented. In a word, education. You can see the parents lean in as they listen. After she does a call and response with the girls about the importance of staying in school and not marrying early, the whole audience breaks into applause.

Schools work as a safety net, connecting each girl to people who care, who notice if she stops showing up, and will step in if trouble does arise. More and more, those stepping in are SGT graduates, alums. Alums have become Friday teachers and hold special classes just for SGT girls to help with schoolwork and are mentors and confidants. Alum groups also host literacy classes for women in their villages, support each other, and fight for women’s rights.

They need to fight; dark practices still linger. Trafficking girls is very profitable, and the pandemic has made life even harder for those living on the rough edge of poverty. But Aruna’s army of educated young women can fight back.

In some ways, Aruna’s work is easier now. In the beginning, 25 years ago, she had to go door to door to persuade parents to let their daughters go to school. Now, 25 years later, those first 54 girls have become 12,000 in 500 schools across Nepal every year. And they are following in the footsteps of 16,000 girls before them who were once at risk and, because of STOP Girl Trafficking, have grown into confident young women. 

That is the power of education and STOP Girl Trafficking. Little girls living in poor and broken homes once considered a burden or a curse transform into young women full of hope who are changing Nepal for the better.

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STOP Girl Trafficking is active in five districts in Nepal’s West, and these districts account for almost a quarter of the 10,000 girls under our protection.

Before Nepal went into lockdown again in May, AHF field director, Bruce Moore, spent a week in Nepal’s West to meet with SGT students, their families, and teachers. He has visited this area at least a dozen times in Moore’s 20 years with AHF. With every trip he learns something new about the people, their cultures and history.

One major takeaway from Bruce’s observations of being in the field is clear: to ensure brighter futures for young women today, understanding the historical context of their realities is vital in moving forward. Bruce’s interactions with one young Badi woman reflects this.

 A Field Dispatch by Bruce Moore, AHF Field Director

The Badi, the lowest caste found in Nepal’s West, are sometimes referred to as “untouchables among the untouchables”. Until the 1950s, the Badi community were entertainers whose patrons (local landed lords) provided them with housing, land, food, and clothes. In return, the Badi sang and danced for them and their guests. Badi women also were expected to provide sexual favors for their master.

In 1951, with the fall of the Rana regime, these local lords could no longer afford to employ the Badi families and, to survive, Badi women were forced into the commercial sex trade. They operated from their homes, so their daughters were desensitized from an early age and fatalistically accepted that they too would become prostitutes.

Education in general, and particularly for girls, was in no way a priority.

Things have improved for the Badi more recently with government development programs, and home-based sex work is mostly a thing of the past. The stigma, however, still sticks to the name.

Janaki is a young Badi woman determined that her future will not be dictated by fate. Things turned around for her nine years ago when her second eldest sister left school in grade seven to get married. This meant Janaki’s family could now barely afford to start sending her to school — at the age of eleven. SGT found and helped her a couple of years later.

Age to grade ratio is important when assessing girls’ risk factors. Girls who start later are often bullied and embarrassed, and it is an often-cited reason for them dropping out. In Janaki’s case, she was more than twice the age of the other children in her class. This, and the discrimination she faced as a Badi, brought her into SGT. She is now 20 years old and in grade 11.

I was impressed with her and asked what advice she would give to other girls in her position.

“I would tell them don’t think of the now, think of the future,” she said very confidently. “Thanks to SGT, my life is going to be very different than my sisters. I have the chance to be someone, I have a future to look forward to, they are stuck in time. I’m the first Badi woman in this area to be a junior in high school. After grade 12, I’ll find a job to help me pay for my bachelor’s, and I also want to be one of SGT’s Friday teachers. I’m interested in early childhood development and want to work with young children.”

I told her about a couple of SGT alums who now ran successful pre-schools and that piqued her interest.

“That is something I could certainly aim for,” she told me.

STOP Girl Trafficking keeps girls safe and in school, yes. But it does much more. It also encourages and empowers them to be change agents and break free, finally, of the generational cycle of poverty and discrimination.

On behalf of SGT’s founder and leader, Dr. Aruna Uprety, and the tens of thousands of Nepalese girls in and graduated from SGT, thank you, thank you. You have saved and transformed so many young lives, and you have their and our endless gratitude

Janaki, one of many ambitious SGT girls
Janaki, one of many ambitious SGT girls
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An SGT student studying in her home in Kavre,Nepal
An SGT student studying in her home in Kavre,Nepal

STOP Girl Trafficking (SGT) prevents girls from being trafficked by keeping them safe in school. With a network that reaches deep into rural Nepal, SGT finds the girls most in danger of being trafficked into slavery, child labor, or forced marriage, and gives them an education and what they need to succeed. These girls come from families and communities with crushing poverty, long histories of abuse, and deep-seated gender discrimination. The longer they stay in school, the safer they are and the more they learn and grow.

The American Himalayan Foundation (AHF) hosts a STOP Girl Trafficking evening every spring in San Francisco to raise funds and awareness for this critical work. Given the challenges brought by the pandemic, we held the event virtually this year – making it accessible to people around the world.

A recording of the event is available to watch here. The program will bring you on a virtual trip to Nepal to meet the SGT girls, visit their homes and schools, and hear about their challenges and dreams. We hope you’ll take 35 minutes to watch the video, see how SGT works on the ground, and hear the inspiring – sometimes heartbreaking – stories of these brave girls.

Thank you for helping to transform the lives of girls in Nepal. Your generous heart makes all the difference, and we are so grateful to you for believing in them. They will get back to school, thanks to you.

Watch the video here.

SGT girls in Udayapur sending their thanks to you
SGT girls in Udayapur sending their thanks to you

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SGT girls in socially-distanced outdoor classes.
SGT girls in socially-distanced outdoor classes.

STOP Girl Trafficking (SGT) prevents girls from being trafficked by keeping them safe in school. With a network that reaches deep into rural Nepal, SGT finds the girls most in danger of being trafficked into slavery or child marriage, enrolls them in school, and gives them what they need to succeed. These girls come from families and communities with crushing poverty, long histories of abuse, and deep-seated gender discrimination. The longer they stay in school, the safer they are and the more they learn and grow.

Schools in Nepal finally started to reopen in late October, with staggered schedules to reduce crowding, after closing their doors in March. Since September, the SGT team has been busy conducting field visits to distribute uniforms and school supplies, meet with girls and their families, and check in with the teachers, volunteers, and some local government officials.

The SGT girls are thrilled to be back and putting those copy books to good use, even with the shorter days. Twelve-year-old Parbati (who has six elder sisters and an elder brother, none of whom made it past grade nine) put it well: “I don’t understand why we can only go to school for two hours now, it used to be six, and six is better than two,” she said. “But two is better than none at all — isn’t it!”

It’s been a challenging year, but AHF and the SGT team have risen to the challenge to keep girls safe. We cannot thank you enough for helping us meet this challenge. We and the 10,000 girls whose futures are brighter because of you are enormously grateful. Thank you!

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American Himalayan Foundation

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Sarah Bakker
San Francisco, CA United States
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