With the promise of love and marriage dancing in her mind, Nepal woman Kaya was embarking on a journey to a new country with her supposed fiance.
However, her dreams were torn in half the night before crossing a border in Nepal. Kaya, who was with her three-year-old daughter, was sitting in a hotel room in Nepal last month when her ‘boyfriend’ threatened to kill himself unless she met his wishes.
At this moment, Kaya was being led down a path to sexual exploitation or trafficking, a path with many preexisting footprints. About 170,000 Nepali people were trafficked in 2016, according to global anti-trafficking organisation Walk Free Foundation.
Two years before the 25-year-old was in this hotel room, she got a divorce and was a single mother in one of the world’s poorest countries, Nepal.
Kaya, with her high school education, worked in a corporate job in Nepal, which is rare for Nepali women. Despite this, her life was not easy as she juggled the responsibility of financially supporting her family, study fees and baby daughter.
Love and lies
Nine months after her divorce, Kaya met a man called Heeran on Facebook. He was 32 years old, from Nepal and worked overseas.
After chatting online often, they became close friends, and a relationship began to bloom.
For Kaya, a husband could be rewarding. It could relieve her financial burden, and potentially increase her status as women are typically seen as second-class citizens in Nepal.
Half of the working women in Nepal in 2016 were not paid a penny for their work, while more than 70% of working men were paid in cash, according to the Ministry of Health Nepal.
As Kaya and Heeran’s relationship deepened, she opened up about her divorce. Heeran took this opportunity to say he was single, lovesick and wanted to marry her. However, unknown to her at the time, Heeran was married with four kids. His love-struck persona was a facade.
Heeran’s behaviour soon changed. His once romantic messages turned into threats of self-harm if Kaya did not want to marry him. Forced marriages in Nepal are common too, as tens of thousands of women were dragged into one in 2016.
After 18 months of speaking – or ‘grooming’ – online, Kaya decided to meet Heeran for the first time at a bus station in urban Nepal.
But instead of running away together then, Heeran went to a neighbouring country to work for four months. During this stint, his family also contacted her to support his lie. They charmed her by considering her family.
The whole family might profit from her leaving the country if she was then sold for sex.
Child Rescue understands that neighbouring countries desire Nepali women prostitutes, with some women profiting a brothel about AU$375 a night.
The hotel room
Kaya and Heeran finally planned to slip away to a neighbouring country last month, despite Nepal being in lockdown because of COVID-19. Without a word to Kaya’s family, she and her daughter snuck off to meet Heeran and then bus to the edge of the country.
Moving countries for marriage might seem brave or reckless to someone in a Western country, but it is normal in Nepal. Two-thirds of women who were migrating from Nepal in 2016, left for marriage, according to the Ministry of Health Nepal.
When Heeran, Kaya and her daughter arrived at the border of the country, they tried to cross at night while the border was closed, but the border police stopped them.
Heeran was unswayed by this and booked a nearby hotel to try the next day again. But his true colours became clear at this hotel, transforming from supposed ‘boyfriend’ to villain.
Heeran sexually exploited Kaya and then threatened her to stay, or he would commit suicide.
Kaya called Heeran’s sister to explain the assault and how he might end his life. Adding to the web of lies, his sister offered no assistance and instead, urged her to comply with her brother and cross the border.
Kaya pleaded with Heeran to let her and her daughter go home, but he kept repeating his threat.
Heeran then gave her a taste of his seriousness by starting to hang himself in the hotel room in front of her until she agreed to cross the border the next day. In a ticking time bomb-like situation and with no help from his sister, Kaya gave in.
The next day, the trio tried to cross the border.
Child Rescue’s agents, however, stopped them in their tracks and asked why they were travelling. Kaya and Heeran pretended to be newlyweds who had recently eloped.
At this moment, Kaya’s fate was in the hands of our agents and their ability to see the truth behind the carefully constructed lies. Kaya had two different doors ahead of her – one to freedom, one to exploitation.
Child Rescue agents knew something did not add up and split the pair apart to cross-examine their stories.
After further questioning, Kaya revealed the truth to Child Rescue and finally got the help she once reached for when calling Heeran’s sister.
Because of her bravery, Heeran was sent to a police station and she and her daughter were brought to a Child Rescue transitional housing shelter. In the days after her rescue, her trafficker attempted to contact her again but our staff arranged for a new SIM card and helped her change her phone number so she is no longer within his reach.
Our staff counselled and educated her about the dangers of human trafficking. They continue to care for Kaya and her daughter as she waits for her family to arrive. Their travels are being delayed due to the pandemic and various lockdowns.
All names have been changed to protect identities.
Despite stories about COVID-19 swamping many news publications in Asia, sex trafficking and exploitation are still rampant and newsworthy. And Child Rescue is continuously in the ring fighting it. Join us today! Become a Rescue Partner.