The Boston Globe
A column by David Nyhan, originally published on Sunday, March 1, 1998
This is the story of how two young women, with just their freshman year at Tufts University behind them, went to Nepal last summer to learn firsthand what should be done and what can be done about the slave trade that takes poor peasant girls from their mountain villages to the bordellos of India and the Middle East.
Aparna Basnyat, 18, is from Nepal. Now a sophomore at Tufts, daughter of a United Nations engineer, she returned home to Katmandu last summer with Carolyn Hunt, 20, whose parents grow grapes on a farm in upstate New York in a town of 500.
They did not go as tourists to hike, climb, or take pretty pictures. They interviewed everybody they could find to write a report on the ugly traffic that sees between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls sold into sexual bondage every year, to the filthy, AIDS-infected brothels of India.
With an average annual income of $ 180, with an open and unpoliced border with India, and with the AIDS epidemic fueling a demand for ever-younger and supposedly uninfected prostitutes, Nepali girls as young as 5 are sold or stolen for the sex trade. In one village, there were virtually no young girls left; villagers lied and said only boys were born to the women there.
The pair interviewed social workers, officials, medical authorities, and the villagers themselves. They prepared a thick binder full of photos, computer printouts, letters, reports, and transcripts of interviews and field work. With guidance from experts at Tufts, the two plan to go back next summer, with two more recruits and money from the Vision Program, to improve the treatment of AIDS-infected women, for whom there is little hope of modern medical intervention.
Katmandu itself suffers from the exploitations of modernism. Tourists come, some looking for what is to be found in the 500 brothels operating in a city of barely 100,000. For those Nepalis who can afford them, satellite television dishes bring in MTV and the other aspects of the video age. How does a young woman from upstate New York, and a town of 500 people, get involved with AIDS-infected prostitutes in Katmandu? Hunt laughed. It just sort of happened, she shrugged, as it might to "anyone who's interested in what's going on in the world, and why."
It was tough befriending young women who were about to die from untreated AIDS. "It was riding a big emotional roller coaster to know they were going to die," Basnyat said. "We came back from the summer very frustrated and upset. 'Where do we go from here?' " Hunt nodded. "What could we do from Boston? As young people, we had no big connections. We were just very young and idealistic."