About the Author: Robert O. Blake serves as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.
I wanted to start my blog entries by highlighting one of the most important issues I deal with in South and Central Asia: trafficking in people. This is a grievous harm that impacts thousands of the most vulnerable, particularly women and children, in the region. Nepal has recently stepped up its efforts to prevent traffickers from preying on its population.
I had the honor of visiting Maiti Nepal, a leading crusader against the trafficking of women. The organization, led by the energetic Anuradha Koirala (recently nominated for a CNN Heroes Award), seeks to protect Nepali girls and rehabilitate those rescued from exploitation. Ms. Koirala and her team have done brave work in fighting the rampant trafficking in the region and integrating victims back into society. I am pleased to say that the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu works closely with them.
Hundreds of women and children greeted me when I arrived at the center in Kathmandu. The women who live at the shelter put on a welcoming ceremony in the courtyard, and they rivaled the best Bollywood routines in their enthusiasm. After the ceremony, I heard an extensive briefing on Maiti Nepal's work to prevent trafficking, including its close cooperation with the Government of Nepal to prevent Nepali girls and women from being lured overseas into exploitative jobs. I also heard harrowing stories from three brave girls whom Maiti Nepal rescued and rehabilitated.
I sat down and talked with Ms. Koirala; you can see the video of our conversation here.
I also brought up trafficking when I met Prime Minister Nepal the next day. His response was heartening, and reflects his government's recognition of the gravity of the situation. He described the establishment of an anti-trafficking "desk" in his office, and the placement at border checkpoints of officers who specialize in combating trafficking. Incidentally, those border officers work closely with representatives from Maiti Nepal and other anti-trafficking NGOs -- usually trafficking victims themselves. Prime Minister Nepal told me that he also sought to raise awareness to fight the false impression spread by traffickers that moving overseas would earn girls money and prestige.
While the government of Nepal has taken measures to fight the trafficking networks, Ms. Koirala and Maiti Nepal have bravely led the way.
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