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Human rights hero draws tears from crowd

Human rights hero draws tears from crowd

A visiting Nepalese anti-human trafficking campaigner had much of her audience in tears today (31 May) as she spoke of the horrors endured by women and children who fall victim to traffickers.…

A visiting Nepalese anti-human trafficking campaigner had much of her audience in tears today (31 May) as she spoke of the horrors endured by women and children who fall victim to traffickers.

Nepalese anti-human trafficking campaigner Anuradha Koirala speaking at the University of Technology, Sydney on Tuesday.

Photograph by ANNA ZHU/

Speaking at a forum at Sydney's University of Technology, Anuradha Koirala, the founder and executive director of Maiti Nepal - an organisation which rescues and rehabilitates women and children sold into the sex trade or other forms of exploitation - spoke of her struggle to overcome what is a significant issue in Nepal.

"Everybody talks about human rights," she said to an audience of several hundred. "But I don't know where the human rights of these girls are."

Koirala, who was an English teacher for more than 20 years and was Nepal's Minister for Women and Children before opening her own home to victims of trafficking in 1993, said much of her struggle comes from the fact that strict laws against human trafficking are in place in Nepal, but are difficult to enforce. This, she explained, is largely due to corruption at the local police level or tardiness within the judiciary once charges have been laid.

"The laws exist," she said, "but enforcement is very, very bad." She added, however, that the work of Maiti Nepal (which means "mother's home") has resulted in an improving conviction rate.

"[Maiti Nepal] deals with the whole vicious cycle of trafficking," she said. "We have been very successful in catching and convicting criminals." To date, said Koirala, Maiti Nepal has secured the conviction of 475 people involved in trafficking, with close to that amount awaiting trial.

UTS students with Nepalese anti-human trafficking campaigner Anuradha Koirala.

Photograph by ANNA ZHU/

Prevention, though, is the primary strategy used by Maiti Nepal, and Koirala explained that part of this strategy is to set up what they call "transit houses" at the Nepalese-Indian border. In these houses, former victims of trafficking - many who now have HIV/AIDS - are employed to spot those they think are being trafficked and report them to the authorities.

Koirala, who was named the CNN Hero of the Year in 2010, also spoke of children who are trafficked out of Nepal and into the Gulf States in order to become camel jockeys. According to Koirala, children as young as two are tied to camels and forced to race and, more often than not, the child ends up seriously or fatally injured. She also showed the audience images of young women dying of AIDS, and girls with broken limbs - caused by jumping from the windows of brothels in which they were imprisoned. Often, they are held in the infamous "Cages of Mumbai" where "rescue is very dangerous and it is difficult to get the girls back", according to Koirala.

Despite the difficulties she faces, Koirala was optimistic that the organisation had made significant headway in educating those most at risk about human trafficking, and giving those who have been trafficked - or who have fallen victim to domestic violence, organ harvesting or child labour - a second chance in life.

And the reason for her success was clear to all in the room.

"What would you do if your daughter was standing there?" she asked. "How would you fight? ... If all of us join hands, nothing is impossible. That is my request to all of you. Join hands and make Nepal a trafficking-free society."

N CONVERSATION WITH: Watch our interview with Anuradha Koirala below, the third in our series of in depth 'In Conversation with" videos with the legal industry's most interesting and inspiring individuals. Alternatively, click here to watch.

Claire Chaffey

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