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Human trafficking in Nepal: a man-made havoc unleashed by a natural calamity

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By Sreyashi Mazumdar

Cracking down upon the vivacity of the overarching mountains and the lush greenery, the amiable laughs and an affable brouhaha, the recent earthquake that had struck the Himalayan nation has not only juddered it but has also left its people at the mercy of conspirators and connivers. Amid the monotony and surging humdrum, the wreckage doled out by the calamity has given way to a series of incessant cries vociferously protesting the injustice put forth by few unscrupulous beings, fleshing out episodes of inhumanity and consolidating the unbridled, illicit trade of human trafficking in the nation.

The earthquake that struck the Himalayan nation, apart from wreaking havoc on its nature and environment, has also opened up a pathway for human trafficking in Nepal, which takes place in the name of help to brighten up their future.

“Three months after a major earthquake shook Nepal, the biggest threat is not disease or further tremors but child trafficking” – UNICEF

Keeping in line with the aforementioned statement by the UNICEF, there seems to be an escalation of human trafficking owing to the nation and its citizenry being in a state of limbo. Despite the relentless efforts put forth by the government officials and other international help in diluting the havoc through reconstruction and medical aid, there has been a marked rise in the number of trafficking cases.

According to a UNICEF report, around 12,000 to 15,000 Nepalese children are trafficked to India every year. A majority of the girls are forced into prostitution and are taken to gulf countries, Africa or are sold to brothel owners in India.

Taking advantage of the prevailing poverty, traffickers trick the vulnerable parents into their trap by assuring them of providing amenities and steady financial assistance that would strengthen their children’s future.

Virginia Perez, chief of child protection for UNICEF in Nepal, said that children are unnecessarily separated from their families and placed in institutions with fake promises of access to health, education and other services. But the reality is that they are being “exploited” by privately run shelter homes and orphanages that ignore the best interests of the child and “want to make profit.”

A Huffington Post report states that around 245 children have been rescued from getting trafficked or illegally placed in children’s care homes.

“The traffickers promise education, meals and a better future. But, the reality is that many of these children could end up being horrendously exploited and abused,” Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF’s Nepal representative, said.

Further, in some cases the parents are forced to relinquish their children, after which the hapless children are admitted to orphanages with dilapidated conditions.

Then these children are used as bait to garner voluminous funds from volunteers, donors and rich families.

Shakti Samuha, an NGO in Nepal, which has been relentlessly trying to curb the malpractice of trafficking unravelled the nuances of the trade. According to the organization, a calamitous situation is apt for the criminals to kick off their wretched deeds; this is the time when brokers, in the name of relief, go to kidnap or lure women.

Nevertheless, the NGO has been making honest efforts to make the locales of the earthquake-hit nation aware of such gory and horrific traps where a woman or child gets lured and thrown into excruciating conditions.

While paging through the annals of past, one might run into the root-cause triggering such a consolidation of the trade engulfing the country – a unique Nepalese cultural system known as Deukis.

As per this custom rich Zamindars’ whose wives fail to gestate babies procure girls from poor Nepalese families and keep them as their slaves or mistresses to produce babies. These girls get inducted in the household through temple rituals. On their 30th year or thereafter, these girls are forced into prostitution.

Considering a UN special report on violence against women, as formulated by Radhika Coomaraswamy, an internationally acclaimed human rights advocate, there has been an increase in the number of Deuki girls from a 12000 in 1992 to 30,000 in 2007.

Therefore, an escalation in the rate of human trafficking is predated by an ingrained culture that has been a part and parcel of this nation for a prolonged period now.

The grisly situation has been befittingly quoted by Damayanti Dutta in an India Today report on human trafficking in Nepal after the damage let loose by the earthquake in the month of April, “The earthquake has unleashed another sordid man-made tragedy on Nepal.” She further adds, “I will always remember those dysfunctional lives …terrible things are happening to Nepal and India has a huge responsibility.”

In a bid to crack down upon the illicit trade, the Nepalese government and organizations like UNICEF have undertaken several corrective steps. According to a Huffington post report, the UNICEF has set up around 84 checkpoints throughout the country in collaboration with NGOs like Maiti, in 12 sensitive points along the India and China border.

Besides that, the organization has also apprised 25 airline companies of the need to screen passengers properly in a bid to ensure that children travelling aboard are accompanied by at least one of the parents or an authorized guardian. It has also circulated 40,000 handbills in order to educate the public and sensitize them.

As cited in Reuters, the Nepal government has put a complete ban on children travelling alone without parents. According to a senior official of the district child welfare board, children under 16 have been completely forbidden from travelling all alone without a parent or an authorized adult.

“If strangers are found travelling with children they will be under the watch of the police,” said an official from the Ministry of Women, as quoted in Reuters.

The recent crackdown that busted two Air India staffs gives an inkling of the efforts made by the Indian government to cease the malpractice. According to reports, the culprits were found fudging documents of 7 Nepalese women who were being taken to Dubai without adhering to any prior immigration clearance. The miscreants were nabbed by the Delhi police.

Mulling over the severity of the issue, one would end up concluding that the wrongdoing can be diluted only if the Nepal government works hand in glove with other international organizations and governments and take up restorative measures in order to put an end to the macabre situation looming over the Himalayan nation. Further, the Indian government requires playing a major role, considering the fact that a major chunk of the trafficked women or girls is forced into brothel houses based in India.

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Imposition of 10% Custom Duty on Book Import Impact Nepal’s Booksellers, Students

Many Nepali publishers print their books in India and earlier would have to pay 15 per cent tax. "Now they are asked to pay 10 per cent duty on total imports"

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With the customs duty and the added charges, it is going to be difficult to sell imported books to academic institutions, libraries and students. Wikimedia Commons

Even as Indian publishers are grappling with a budget proposal of 5 per cent customs duty on imported books, in close neighbour Nepal, a 10 per cent duty on books has left publishers and booksellers reeling, with students hit badly as Kathmandu imports over 80 per cent of its books from India.

A few days after the Nepal government on May 29 announced a 10 per cent duty on imported books, publishers stopped picking up books at the Nepal customs point in protest and have demanded roll back of the move. With no text books coming in to Nepal, the student community has been affected the most, say publishers.

“Around 80-90 per cent of books in Nepal are imported, and most of it from India. Now the students, including those in Classes 10 and 11, are not getting text books on time. The National Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of Nepal (NBPAN) has decided not to import any books in protest. We import 90-95 per cent of academic and text books from India,” a noted book seller in Kathmandu told IANS on phone, declining to be named.

According to Madhab Maharjan, Advisor NBPAN and owner of Mandala Book Point in Kathmandu, the 10 per cent customs duty will attract other taxes, like the cost, insurance and freight tax and other charges, further pushing up the price of imported books.

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According to Maharjan if India revokes the 5% duty on imported books the move “may help to revoke 10 per cent duty in Nepal too”. Wikimedia Commons

“Books all over the world are sold at the printed price. With the customs duty and the added charges, it is going to be difficult to sell imported books to academic institutions, libraries and students,” Maharjan told IANS over phone from Kathmandu.

He said they have requested the KP Sharma Oli government to remove the tax. “We have a long tradition of importing books from India. Religious books were imported from Benaras in the 20th century. Now the import of books is restricted to New Delhi,” said Maharjan, adding that scholars, academics and experts are raising their voices in protest against the move through the print and social media.

The 10 per cent tax will hamper the free flow of books and also affect the reading habit of students, says Maharjan. According to him, a Nepali journalist in an article in a local daily asked Finance Minister Yuba Raj Khatiwada, who is a PhD in economics, whether it was a theory of economics to impose the customs duty on books when the need was to improve the reading habits and culture of the people.

The reason for stopping the books at the customs point was because “as soon as we import we will have to increase the price, and secondly the old stocks have to be sold at the old price”.

“Thus there will be two prices of the book in one book store. This will create misunderstanding with students, readers, scholars, researchers and academics at large with whom we have to deal with everyday,” Maharjan said.

nepal, duty on books
Many Nepali publishers print their books in India and earlier would have to pay 15 per cent tax. “Now they are asked to pay 10 per cent duty on total imports. Wikimedia Commons

He added: “We do not want any one taking undue advantage of the situation, including politically motivating the students. Thus we have opted for this move not to import books till we come to a final decision.” According to him, the onset of the digital era has hit book sellers and publishers. “There are not many book shops left, and with moves like this book sellers may not survive for long.”

Many Nepali publishers print their books in India and earlier would have to pay 15 per cent tax. “Now they are asked to pay 10 per cent duty on total imports. The earlier system was better to protect the local industry,” Maharjan said.

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The number of students pursuing higher education in Nepal under Management, Humanities, Science and Education stands at around 400,000, and they would be directly hit by the duty on books imported from India. According to Maharjan if India revokes the 5% duty on imported books the move “may help to revoke 10 per cent duty in Nepal too”.

K.P.R. Nair, Managing Director Konark Publishers in Delhi, said Indian publishers are aware of the situation in Nepal and are trying to help. “They have asked for our help, and we are going to help them,” Nair, a veteran in the publishing industry, told IANS. (IANS)