The problem is huge. Every year, as many as 20,000 girls from the poorest parts of Nepal are trafficked – lured by the false promises of traffickers. These girls, some as young as nine, end up in Indian brothels or as domestic servants in countries as far away as the Middle East. In either case, they’re slaves. Many are HIV positive within two years, and dead before they reach twenty.
The way The American Himalayan Foundation combats this modern-day slavery is revolutionary – and surprisingly effective...
They go to the source, into the villages where girls are at risk, and put those girls into school. They counsel them and their families about the dangers of trafficking. By keeping at-risk girls in school and living at home, they are less vulnerable to being sold or lured by promises of jobs, only to find themselves in brothels or trapped as slaves in households. For a small investment – $100 pays for everything: school fees, books, school uniforms, tutoring – they can keep a girl safe for whole year. Persuading families to educate their daughters was slow going at first, but 10,000 girls later – without one being lost – the idea is gaining traction.
Dr. Aruna Uprety, AHF's visionary partner, went to the brothels in India where more than a hundred thousand Nepali girls are trapped, hoping to convince some to come home. To her great surprise, they told her, “It’s too late for us. If we had known anything, if we had been able to go to school and learn and work, we would never have landed here. Please, keep this from happening to other girls.” The heartbreak of their situation pushed her to focus on prevention – breaking the cycle of trafficking from the start. She pioneered the approach of getting at-risk girls into school, and our partnership with her has saved thousands of young lives.
In the beginning, it was hard to convince families that sending girls to school was worthwhile. Fifteen years ago AHF started with 54 girls. This year they have 10,500 in 519 schools across Nepal, and they haven’t lost one girl to trafficking. Not one. Reluctance to send girls to school is dropping away, and whole villages are asking to be included in our work. Educating the most at-risk girls in a village spreads enough knowledge to keep traffickers at bay.