Traffickers try new tactics to exploit two girls
After rescuing 260 people at the border last year, our rescue agents in Nepal are seeking to clamp down further on human trafficking across the border this year despite traffickers now appearing to be more cunning than ever.
Traffickers typically isolate their target girl and manipulate her across the border to a neighbouring country by either catfishing her online or offering a fake high-paying job.
But this was not the case for Bilhana, 22, who was on the brink of being trafficked three weeks ago after her trafficker used new tactics and charmed and lied to her parents and extended family too.
“Before, traffickers would pry the minor away from their parents – tell them to lie and sneak off. Now we’re seeing traffickers involving the parents,” Wayne says, Child Rescue’s country manager of Nepal.
Winning the lottery
Bilhana was raised in a village in a rocky and mountainous region of Nepal, sitting in the shadow of the goliath mountain, Mount Everest. Her family is poor as her father is a labourer who makes about a 20-dollar bill a week. To keep the family afloat, Bilhana dropped out of school at about age 10 and worked alongside her father.
In Nepal, kids in impoverished families often forgo their education for early employment.
Two months ago, Bilhana met a woman named Sona, 30, who asked about her employment. Sona discovered how little she was earning at her village and told her she could catapult her income from about $10 to an eye-watering $100 a week. This was a dreamy offer as many working women in the country do not get paid.
The catch, however, was she had to leave her family and work in a neighbouring country.
Bilhana could not go unless her parents got her a passport. But Sona persuaded her parents to let her leave the country by flattering them with the idea of their daughter becoming wealthy. Plus Sona offered to pay for her travel costs. The parents were easily convinced and got her a passport.
Bilhana told her cousin about her upcoming trip, at which she decided to tag along too.
Sona is a trafficker and was now about to profit from two family members with little extra effort. Child Rescue has observed a trend where traffickers target more than one family member. In December last year, our team rescued twin sisters, a brother and a sister, and a mother and her child. Just last month, border agents also intercepted a group of three sisters.
A lesson in deception
To begin the journey abroad, Sona took the girls to her house where they stayed for a week.
Sona took this time to groom the girls. She handed them new cell phones and clothes and got them to daydream about how beautiful and rich they will become after they cross the border. This fantasy stands in black and white contrast to their lives in an impoverished village.
After their stay, Sona handed them each a bus ticket and a few dollars to travel to a town on the outskirts of the country. A man picked them up and took them to a luxury hotel for a night.
Here, he trained the girls to cross the border without being stopped in their tracks. He got them to memorise a list of lies about their travel plans to use if they were questioned by border security. This is a normal strategy. Child Rescue noted 48 instances of girls being told to lie at the border between just October and November last year.
But – straying far from normal – this man went one step further. He also coached both of their parents to repeat the same lie if they were called by border security too. He was attempting to add layers of artificial authentication to sneak these girls across the border.
On the morning of January 21, the man drove the girls to the border in an auto rickshaw, a three-wheeled motorised cart. When they arrived, however, he told them to keep their bags and passports in the cart while he drove away to pick up something.
Bilhana and her cousin were now left alone to cross the border.
As the girls attempted to walk through the border point, our border agents brought them to a halt. They asked the girls where and why they were travelling.
Remembering her memorised lines, Bilhana told our agents she lived nearby and was simply popping across the border to buy vegetables. Her cousin said she was crossing to get medicine. The girls also said they were friends, not relatives.
Our border agents asked to call their parents but Bilhana said she did not have her home’s contact phone number. Our border agents, unconvinced by such a claim, then took her cell phone and dialled for her mother. Bilhana’s mother – who was also coached to lie – repeated the girls’ excuses but hung up when our agents asked what stores the girls planned to visit.
Then a man called one of the girl’s phones and asked if they had crossed the border yet.
Our border agents continued to press and question the girls, but they simply parroted the same lies. With questions getting them nowhere, our staff begin to counsell them about the reality and dangers of human trafficking in Nepal. After a while, Bilhana and her cousin finally confessed the truth.
The girls stayed in one of our transitional homes where they were further counselled and educated on human trafficking. They remained there until their parents arrived to bring them home.
Sona, on the other hand, switched off her phone after discovering the girls were rescued by Child Rescue, while the male trafficker was caught and sent to a police station. A legal case is now being built against him.
Finding the next one
In Nepal, Bilhana and her cousin’s situation is unfortunately routine. In 2016, about 170,000 people were trafficked in the country, according to global anti-trafficking organisation Walk Free Foundation. For these flood of victims, the lifestyles waiting for them across the border were most-likely relating to sexual or labour exploitation.
To combat this crisis, Child Rescue has increased our presence from 10 to 14 border stations manned by border agents during all open hours. Many people walk, bike or drive across the border while our agents conduct about 50 interviews each day to find the next Bilhana. In the first month of this year, 71 lives have already been rescued.
Wayne, our country manager in Nepal, says while our organisation has a “huge impact” against human trafficking the country, we need between 35 to 40 border stations in total to wipe out the crisis. To help do this, our team is still expanding operations to even more stations this year.
“There’s plenty of room for funders to come on board,” Wayne says.
Names have been changed to protect identities.