Kuwait becomes latest 'hellhole' for Nepali women
Mar 19, 2007 - 8:08:55 AM

Kathmandu, March 19 - A young Nepali woman who flew in here from Kuwait via New Delhi in a state of severe trauma is now undergoing psychiatric treatment. Disgusted NGO officials here say Kuwait has become the hellhole for Nepali women being illegally trafficked to Gulf countries.

The 26-year-old from Nepal's eastern Jhapa district, who reached here Monday night, was unable to tell the airport attendants where she wanted to go or what had happened to her.

She had been discovered at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport the previous week, returning from Kuwait. The airport informed the Nepal embassy in New Delhi, who in turn contacted Maiti Nepal, an NGO in Kathmandu that works to prevent trafficking and rehabilitate the victims.

'She is with Maiti Nepal now, undergoing psychiatric treatment,' says Bishwa Ram Khadka, director at Maiti Nepal. 'She has lost her mental balance.'

Maiti Nepal rescued three more women from the border town of Kakarbhitta the same week.

Sunita, Juna and Dilmaya from Sunsari district in southern Nepal had been offered lucrative jobs in Kuwait by a local tout, Anita, who reportedly vanished after taking their money and passports.

Last year, the NGO was sent four-five traumatised women every month, all of them returning from Kuwait mentally unbalanced and victims of sexual exploitation.

It is all the more disturbing since the government banned Nepali women from going to the Gulf to work as maids after 1998, when Kani Sherpa, a mother of four in her late 20s, died under mysterious circumstances in Kuwait.

Sherpa's family says she was frequently assaulted and raped by her employer. When she tried to escape, she was thrown down to her death from the top storey of the villa.

Sharp criticism from human rights groups, following Sherpa's death, forced the government to announce the ban.

However, the ban has been less than effective. Political instability, unemployment and poverty drive hundreds of Nepali women to go illegally to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain and Oman.

Luring them are unscrupulous brokers who know the women will be sexually exploited and tortured.

Well-organised traffickers' networks span Nepal, India and the Gulf, with India playing an important role as the transit point.

Since India and Nepal share an open border and Nepalis do not need a visa to go to India, the victims are first taken to Indian cities, from where they are sent to the Gulf destinations.

'Every day, we receive six to seven appeals for help, either from the women or from their relatives,' says Uma Tamang, a lawyer at Maiti Nepal's legal division.

'We work with Nepali missions abroad and NGOs, like the Pravasi Nepali Network Parivar in Saudi Arabia, to rescue the women. But there's little we can do to give them justice.'

Two years ago, Sangita Shrestha, a 36-year-old from Kathmandu Valley, went to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid. After one phone call, her family never heard from her again.

When Maiti Nepal began enquiries, her employer and the broker in Mumbai, identified only as Taufiq, said Shrestha, unable to adjust to the closed Saudi society, had hanged herself within a week of her arrival.

Yet for seven months her body lay in the morgue and no one informed her family. Till now, no compensation has been paid to them nor has the government taken any step to investigate the death.

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