By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of Nepali women are being trafficked every year as sex workers and bonded laborers, and China and South Korea are emerging as new destinations, a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said on Wednesday.
Up to 17,000 Nepalis were trafficked in the two fiscal years ending mid-July 2015, a number swollen by the disruption caused by earthquakes in April and May last year, the NHRC said in a report this week citing figures from non-profits and the police.
India remains the biggest destination country, but rising numbers of women and girls are also being trafficked to China and South Korea after bring tricked into marriage with the promise of a better life, the report said.
Of the 1,000 or so Nepali women who went to South Korea between 2005 and 2013, most are living in slave-like conditions, it said.
"This is a big number, and the government must boost efforts to control this," NHRC member Mohna Ansari told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"On the basis of the consultations and data collected by NGOs, only a few can be said to be living happily," she said.
China's strict one-child policy, which formally ended last year, led to a skewed gender ratio there and sparked huge demand for brides and sex slaves from other countries in the region.
Poor women from rural areas of Nepal are also lured to South Korea by false promises of good jobs and better lives.
The NHRC report was issued just weeks after an investigation by Britain's Sun tabloid revealed that children as young as 10 from Nepal and India were being sold as domestic slaves to rich families in Britain for 500,000 rupees ($7,500) each.
Last year's earthquakes in Nepal, which caused widespread damage and displaced millions, greatly increased the vulnerability of women and children, the NHRC said.
In the three months after the quakes, 1,233 women and children were reported missing, and the risk of their being trafficked increased by an estimated 15 to 20 percent, it said.
The government has disputed the figures reported by the NHRC, which is an independent organization funded by the state.
Only 181 Nepalis were trafficked last year, compared with 185 in 2014, said Sunita Nepal, an official at the ministry of women and children.
The NHRC said its figures were compiled from non-profits working in the countries concerned and the government's numbers were under-estimates as many victims do not report the crime.
Nepal's conviction rate for alleged traffickers is just 33 percent because victims are afraid to come forward or make statements in court, activists say.
"They remain silent for fear of being ostracized," said Sunita Danuwar of Shakti Samuha, a charity that works on the rehabilitation of trafficked women.
"They must be given counseling, so they can open up and seek justice," said Danuwar, who was trafficked to a brothel in Mumbai and rescued in the 1990s.
(Writing by Rina Chandran, editing by Tim Pearce.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)