Activism: Maiti Nepal, A Mother’s Love, by Pranada Devi

In North America, young girls can generally expect to go through adolescence and grow into adulthood free to go to school, get an education, choose a career, and be with whomever they choose. But there are parts of the world in which this expectation is brutally shattered at an early age. In Nepal, for example, young girls are often trafficked into Bombay, India and sold to brothels. As of 2009, 15 Nepalese girls were being trafficked daily.

The 2009 PBS documentary “The Day My God Died” tells the story in heartbreaking detail of how young Nepali girls are trafficked into Bombay, beaten, raped, tortured and forced into prostitution, in many cases before they even reach puberty. (The average age in brothels is now fourteen.) Condoms are not used; HIV spreads rampantly and abortions are frequent (with little to no recovery time before the girls are forced back to work). The bodies and spirits of these girls are so broken that they speak of the day they were sold to the brothel as the day their God died.

Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, observed, “The brothel keepers wake up every single day committed to their work. They wake up very focused about what it is they’re doing, and they’re there all day, every day, 24/7, and somebody has to have the same sort of commitment to fighting the problem.”

One person who has this commitment is Anuradha Koirala, who founded the Maiti Nepal organization in 1993. “Maiti” means the home of the mother. Koirala says, “First you have to learn to take them as your own child, then you feel the sorrow, then the strength comes to protect them, to take care of them. […] These girls are betrayed. They need love and care. So where do you get love and care? Where do you get protection? So the only place is mother’s home.”

In many cases, girls who are rescued from brothels end up in unwelcoming government remand centres while their paperwork is sorted out. Or, worse yet, they can come home to find their family or their village no longer welcome them. Maiti Nepal provides a safe home for rescued girls to receive food, shelter, schooling, healing therapy and medical treatment. They have the chance to be young girls again.

In addition, the organization operates checkpoints and prevention homes to support vulnerable girls who were on the verge of being trafficked into India; and Koirala has opened hospices to care for the high number of rescued girls who are HIV positive. Maiti Nepal now has three prevention homes, nine transit homes, two hospices and a high school. More than one thousand children receive direct services from Maiti Nepal every day.

Some of the girls who have been rescued by Maiti Nepal tap into incredible reserves of strength and courage to help others from living their experience. They work at checkpoints and information campaigns in their villages to help prevent trafficking. In some cases they even go back to visit the brothels where they were held, to help the girls there to get out. One of these, Maili, told PBS, “It’s dangerous. The pimps will do anything. It’s tricky to get these girls out. It can take six or seven months. […] I’m not scared to go inside these brothels. Even if they were to kill me and say, ‘Good, the bitch is dead’, I know some would say I died for a good cause trying to help others.”

Koirala, who was declared CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2010, says, “This is the issue. If you really feel the issue, if you really love the issue, you will really work for them. If you do not understand the issue, you will just go on talking, and talking will never end. It is time for us to work. That is it.”

You can read more about Maiti Nepal’s efforts, and learn how to help, at Friends of Maiti Nepal.

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Pranada Devi is a government communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She manages the Politics, Books and Activism sections for Parvati Magazine in addition to serving as Managing Editor for the magazine overall. She has followed politics at all levels for two decades. She serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.