Abusing Vulnerability: Catastrophes Escalate Human Trafficking Levels

By: Luis Gay

Edited by: Sharon E. Chin


In regions devastated by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal, which killed more than 7,000 people, hundreds of thousands people living in rural communities are now homeless and left without possessions. Human traffickers are taking advantage of the vulnerability that young women are facing and abducting them by force for sex labor.

In an estimate by the UN and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 12,000 to 15,000 girls are trafficked from Nepal each year. Sunita Danuwar, the director of an NGO in Kathmandu called “Shakti Samuha”, stated that people reported of incidences of individuals pretending to look for and rescue people. The reality is that traffickers are looking for their next trafficking victims in the wake of tragedy.

Many girls are taken to South Korea or even South Africa, although a majority of them end up in Indian brothels, faced to worked in inhumane conditions. Western aid officials expressed that these types of catastrophes are prime opportunities to traffic women. Sita, 20, told her trafficking story to The Guardian. She was taken from her village in Sindhupalchok by her uncle and was sent to Siliguri, a town near the border of India. There she was sold to a brothel owner where she was “repeatedly beaten, systematically raped by hundreds of men and infected with HIV.” Her parents, who are both illiterate and subsistence farmers, believed that she would have a good job; her “job” of sex enslavement resulted in unprotected sex with 20-30 men, seven days a week. When police discovered these events, she was rescued and sent to an NGO. Sita worries that due to desperate measures, other girls might be coaxed into taking a job that would trap them into slavery. In her home village of Sindhupalchok, more than 3,000 people were killed and thousands became homeless.

The U.S. State Department has noted that Nepal does not abide with the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking, although Nepalese government is currently making efforts to address this problem. As for Sita, she currently lives in a shelter run by Shakti Samuha. Her parents do not know what has happened to her and her brothers have disowned her. Sex trafficking victims are often ostracized. When she called one of her brothers, he said he had no sister and that she called the wrong number. Hopefully, with awareness of the dangers to women after natural disasters, stories like Sita can be avoided. Nepal is an extremely impoverished country, being the center of smuggling networks including trades involving tiger skins, narcotics, and of course, people. While most of the networks are in India, “gang representatives and agents” are taking advantage of Nepal’s turn of events and scouting for “suitable women” in rural areas. Decisive actions that lure women into accepting these jobs include a promise to marriage with wealthy foreigners. Locally, hundreds of bars and massage parlors in places such as Kathmandu recruit women who are forced to work in poor conditions and often prompted to perform sex on their clients. Because of the quake, these businesses will have an easier time to find employees.

Luis Gay is an undergraduate attending the University of San Francisco, pursuing a Biology degree and Chemistry Minor. He is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.


Burke, Jason. 2015May5. “Nepal quake survivors face threat from human traffickers supplying sex trade”. The Guardian. [Accessed 15 May 2015]. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/05/nepal-quake-survivors-face-threat-from-human-traffickers-supplying-sex-trade

Photo Credit:

This image was found in an article entitled “Sex trade human traffickers swarm to Nepal to target tens of thousands of women and girls left homeless by the country’s giant earthquake” at dailymail.co.uk. [Accessed May 15, 2015]


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