Education is what makes people aware of the social evils.
Feb. 6, 2018
With Nepal still reeling from the devastating April earthquake, hundreds of young Nepalese girls from the most hard-hit areas like Sindhupalchowk are falling victim to a scheme that is being used to traffic thousands of Nepali girls. Every day little girls are smuggled across the Nepal-India border to be sold. Although reliable data on the scope of the issue is difficult to gather, Unicef reports that as many as 12,000 children are trafficked to India, mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
For families, who are uneducated and desperate for money, an offer of a well-paying job in India is an escape towards a better life and it was no different for parents of a young girl named Laxmi.
Laxmi, which is a nickname used to protect her identity, is a 14-year-old Nepali girl studying in grade eight in a school in Sindhupalchowk. She has frizzy black hair and wears yellow beaded bracelets that rattle on her wrist. She has two younger siblings who are attending grade four and three in the same school.
In early November, Sani Maharjan, a Teach For Nepal Fellow, noticed part of the third bench where Laxmi sits had been empty for days. Curious to know how long it had been since she last came to school she opened the attendance log. “When I opened the attendance log, there were numerous x beside her name,” explains Sani. “So after the class, I headed straight to the Principal's office to call Laxmi’s parents.”
Laxmi’s mother convinced Sani in their phone conversation that Laxmi had been sick and will be back in school as soon as she feels better.
A week had passed and Laxmi was still not in school. Worried about Laxmi’s health, Sani decided to pay a visit to Laxmi’s house along with the school principal. In her visit, Sani and her principal were told that Laxmi had gone to Kathmandu for treatment.
“After leaving Laxmi’s house, I decided to pay a visit to few of my student's house myself while head sir went back to school,” said Sani. “I wanted to talk to few of the parents about their children's performance in my class.”
In her visit to other parents house, she learned that Laxmi was still in the village and was heading to India for work. Upon hearing this, Sani felt the earth move under her feet.
“I felt like the sky was tumbling down and my heart started to tremble,” expressed Sani. “I had worked so hard for the last one and half year and I was about to finish my Fellowship with a failure.” But she wasn’t going to give up.
Sani along with her co-Fellows Hari and Rashmi decided to go and wait in front of Laxmi’s house till they find out Laxmi’s where about. After waiting for multiple days outside Laxmi’s house in a cold weather, one of the neighbours informed the trio that Laxmi was sent to Kathmandu on the evening Sani and the principal visited Laxmi’s house.
“One of the biggest battles has been for us during our Fellowship is keeping girls in school, safe from child marriages and trafficking,” Hari shared. “It's so disheartening, to learn that one of our students will be abused or sexually exploited every day for the rest of her life.”
On their way back to their homes, the trio decided then and there they would not give up until the day Laxmi is back in their school smiling and playing with her friends. The three along with school Principal, Bishnu Prasad Tiwari and Vice-Principal, Asman Tamang started reaching out to various social services organization that fight against the social evils of child trafficking.
The next day around 5 pm, the school received an anonymous call with information about Laxmi’s where about. The tipster informed the Fellows that Laxmi along with her two sisters were being taken towards India Nepal Sunauli border.
Armed with the information, they started making calls to various child helpline numbers, instead of help the three received endless numbers of phone numbers. Not knowing what to do, Sani decided to call her manager, Jalan Maharjan (Teach For Nepal Fellow, 2013) now their Leadership Development Manager (LDM).
“It was late night when she called me,” Jalan shared. “I could hear the panic and confusion in her voice.” After helping Sani calm down, Jalan shared phone number of Sunita Danuwar, acting president of Shakti Samuha organization and a survivor of trafficking herself, who they had known from Teach For Nepal’s ‘One Day In a Classroom’ initiative.
Without wasting any time, Sani called Sunita Danuwar and shared the story. “Sunita jee, asked us for the photo of Laxmi and we sent it right away,” said Sani.
Shakti Samuha circulated the photo instantly across all Nepal-India borders.
The girls were found by the border security trying to cross to India early morning.
Without the intervention of Fellows like Sani, Hari and Rashmi, Laxmi would have probably ended up in brothels, in homes and factories as slaves, her young life cut short by trauma and abuse.
Rescued and back at her village, Laxmi attends the school every day. Recently she was able to achieve a second highest average grade in her class. After finishing her school, she aspires to be a doctor to serve her own community.
After the earthquake, child trafficking has increased enormously in the most earthquake-affected districts like Sindhupalchowk. Everyday 85 Teach For Nepal Fellows are changing stories of children's life in Nepal by providing quality education and fighting against social evil.