Nepali Times
This Is It
Long journey home


REUNITED: After ten years of search, Shangmo Lama finally meets her two nieces at Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore where they were kept as orphans. Lama had travelled with the rescue team to bring back her two daughters and her nieces from the school.

After the rescue of 23 Nepali girls from an orphanage in Coimbatore in southern India two weeks ago and writing my report for Nepali Times (A far-away rescue, #571), I was following up to see how many of them had been reunited with their parents.

The girls, mostly from Humla, had been taken to Michael Job Centre (MJC) in Coimbatore when they were between three to seven by the infamous human trafficker, Dal Bahadur Phadera. Ten years later, the girls were found by the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EMBF) living in the centre as "orphans" of "Christian martyrs" killed by Maoists during the war. In all these years, the children except for those whose parents worked with the traffickers, had no contact with their families in Nepal.

When all girls were handed over and brought back to Nepal,we had expected this to be received positively back home and that it would spur up similar rescue efforts of other children sold and trafficked in India. But instead of being commended for the rescue, EBMF has been condemned in an orchestrated media campaign. It has been blamed for forcibly bringing back the girls from a 'good English medium school'. A television channel broadcasted footage of angry parents badmouthing the rescuers for endangering the future of their daughters. With their irresponsible and badly researched coverage, sections of the Nepali media ended up helping the trafficker.

They never bothered to check that in Bhairawa last week, when the children arrived, Phadera was there as well with the parents, most of whom are his relatives . A UML member, Phadera was convicted for human trafficking but used his political connections to get himself released after serving just three years. Now, he is using all his influence to slander the rescue and sadly, many reporters have played along.

The Coimbatore school is supposed to be an orphanage, but the girls were no orphans. The girls were said to be Christian, they were not. They were said to be victims of Christian martyrs killed by the Maoists, they were not. At anytime, if the Indian authorities had closed down the centre, the girls would have been homeless.

The police here have also been trying to pass the buck to cover up their lack of action. DSP Puja Singh said this week that it wasn't a big deal if the girls were falsely kept as orphans in India because "half the children in Nepal's orphanages are not orphans either" and that forcible conversion of minors is fine too as the country is secular now. Such comments prove how deep Phadera's political connections are and how everyone from the police to sections of the media are complicit in this crime.

There is not a shred of doubt that the Humla girls were trafficked to India to make money for the Michael Job Centre. The people who have objected to their children being embarrassed in public by the rescue might do well to remember that their girls were being advertised globally as orphans in the centre's website. The images and profiles of the girls were displayed online for sponsors to choose from. The centre has removed its website after being exposed. (See archived webpage of the centre)

Some parents were not happy to get their children back, they would rather that the girls stayed in India without them having to worry about their upbringing. But many are happy to have their children back. (See box).

What has got lost in all this is that the presence of the girls at the centre in India was illegal. It is no longer the question of whether the girls or their parents want them to stay in the orphanage, they had to come back or face an even more uncertain future in India.

It is typical for the parents of girls rescued from circuses and brothels to disown them. Many Nepali parents also sell their daughters off. We could not help but wonder if some of those parents would have reacted as bitterly if the children were not girls but boys.

But most surprising was how the media chose to argue in favor of traffickers by implying that children of poor parents are better off in foreign orphanages. The problem is in fact not so much with foreign traffickers as with Nepalis themselves.

Afterall it is often relatives who sell their daughters, sisters and wives to middlemen. Unless we stop, they won't. The rescuing organisation is ready to take charge of the girls if the parents are not interested. Instead of making ruckus about the future of the girls which the organisation is willing to look after, we would do better to rally against dangerous people like Phadera and their political patrons who sell Nepali girls and get away with it.

Sabita's homecoming

Sabita Kadel, 14, from Nawalparasi has finally came back home after five years of living as an orphan in Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore in India. After the rescue, her aunt Mina Paudel came to receive her in Kathmandu.

"I can't explain my happiness. For five years, I looked all over for her, two years ago I travelled to Coimbatore but I was humiliated at the Centre and they refused to give me back my daughter."

They did not even let Mina talk to Sabita over the phone for all these years. In the Centre's newsletter, Tortured For Christ, July 2009 issue, Sabita aka Fay has been mentioned as the child of a murdered Christian mother whose other relatives were also slaughtered in a killing rampage by Maoists.

Mina says that her family is Hindu and that the child's father died of kidney failure while the mother left when Sabita was young. "When we got to Bhairawa I saw parents refusing to take responsibility of their girls because they were hand-in-glove with the traffickers," Mina told Nepali Times. "I felt so sorry for those girls."

For her part, Sabita was ecstatic as she talked of her journey home: "I am so happy. I want to go places and be with my family and then continue school."

See videos of Michael Job Centre

Read also:
Cashing it big on children, THOMAS BELL
Adoption is just one part of the larger trafficking problem in Nepal
How our media helps sell children (by asking the wrong questions), USHAFT

1. Henry Scobie

For more on DB Phadera/Fadera, see -- A trafficker remains scot-free (The Kathmandu Post):

2. Ram Gurung
There is a body of research that shows that orphanages fail to provide children with the proper life skills needed for adult life. Therefore a disproportionate number of them (as many as 1 in 10) commit suicide, up to 1 in 7 end up in prostitution and many others gravitate towards places they can cope with given their institutional life skills, such as in jails and psychiatric institutions. I commend the work of EBT for getting kids out of Indian orphanages but also Next Generation Nepal and Help for Himalayan Kids promoting non institutional care in Nepal, it is the future.

3. Henry Scobie

UNICEF's Phadera/Humla investigation looked at the Michael Job Centre back in December of 2004.

Many of us never understood why UNICEF suppressed their 2005 Humla report (apparently the investigation was "too controversial" for publication).

The Michael Job children should have been rescued back in 2005....

4. Mr. Poudel
awwwww... sweetheart... finally you realize that WE, THE NEPALI PEOPLE ARE THE PROBLEM...

I feel bad for you though. I did not think this would take such an unfavorable turn for EBMF and all those involved. Well you did what you thought was right, so rest on it (although, I thought it was not such a great rescue needing much media attention, I guess it kind of backfired).

But, rallying against people like Phadera and their political patrons will not help. You see WE are the ones who sell our daughters, sisters, nieces, aunts, neighbors, relatives; making it easier for human traffickers to get away with it and TAUNT good people like dear Rubeena at the Bhairawa border for rescuing them. 

Ever wondered what it might take for us to STOP? No the answer is not to 'root out poverty', 'give security', 'improve the economy', 'quality education', ... all these things will only make us more mischievous and capable of figuring out even more sophisticated ways of 'selling our daughters' (like in Europe and US).

The problem is our 'hearts'... For 'The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked...' Change people's hearts and all this will change for the better. Otherwise, tough luck.

5. bns
It is well documented that many of the girls that are sold to brothels in India by these traffickers are done with full knowledge of the parents or so called husbands. This crime should carry the capital punishment. Period. Can we change the mindset of all these criminals, no? Can we try to punish them for these heinous crimes? Yes and we should. As long as we have people like Mr Poudel in comment 4, it will be difficult but someone has to try. And I salute all who have worked to make Nepal a better place and especially young people like Rubeena who have the courage to write about the atrocities and the people who commit them I am sure fully realizing that danger lurks at every corner in Nepal. And equally important is giving information to the all Nepalese about the courageous people who have stood up to the powers who are part of the problem. These politicians, bureaucrats and security forces who have taken the oath to protect the poor and defenseless but do nothing to fulfill their oaths.

6. nishachar
#4, Mr. Poudel

So, your 'answer' is to keep hands folded and mock people at everything they do? In your words, no matter what, people will not stop selling children and girls irrespective of all the different possible solutions that might be applied. You say people's hearts are the problems- care to tell us how to change that? Maybe our next 10-year plan should realize it should scrap everything and devote its energy in getting your heart cloned and transplanted to everybody.

Maybe you need an Anuradha Koirala or someone awarded by Hillary Clinton to even acknowledge that there is a grave problem here and people doing their bits to curb need some support and encouragement?

Well, if you think they are not doing enough or that solving individual cases are not enough to stop the more general social tendency, please would you do us a favor and use your intelligence and insights (i can see you can't contain them- you must have lots) into doing things? Constructive and a well argued criticism is also a very good way of help- what you've done is essentially a pathetic attempt at discouraging the writer of this piece.

Pathetic, because your comment is out-rightly childish and has not a single element that could possibly make the writer stop and think- or well, care. Because it takes a lot more than typing a few priggish sentences to actually name a very notorious criminal and publish a well researched story against a major crime of the society.

I wish you some smiles and some good luck Mr.- I'm sure you lack them in your life.

7. Maybe
Just a thought hai.It was indeed a nice thing  what EMBF did ,infact it was great thing but then what now?It is typical of media i mean the other media doing their ugly thing that is making a scene but  i too think they have a valid question here.What will happen to those girls now? I don't think their family can provide much for them(for i think they were the ones who disowned(sold) them in the first place). I read  that the rescuers now want nothing to do with the girls .Aren't  the girls left in a limbo? I think you should fight for those  girls(you started your crusade for the girls but now you are trying to hang on to your Reputation*) .Twenty three lives future rest on your hand now(if you backtrack i guess no one can blame you ,hey you are just a reporter ).Seriously twenty three lives becomes a plaything for humans .I think somewhere in your heart you do feel a bit guilty .Those phaderas and thugs did sell those girls but you might be the one taking them to some dance bar in kathmandu .Fight those phaderas and those EMBF(Laving people in the middle of nowhere)  .

8. nishachar
#7, Maybe:
No, they do not have a valid question here. The valid question would be to ask the perpetrators of the crime to pay for the rehabilitation of the children. Another valid question also is: should we the citizens not feel ashamed and guilty of all this?

It is totally not valid to support selling of children to orphanages or to attack their rescuers for reasons completely irrelevant. Girls in Nepal don't go to dance bar because they didn't make it to the fake orphanages.

Why don't you ask the traffickers to be given harsh punishments and also made to pay for the education of the rescued children instead? If you think this is not the government's or the citizens' responsibility, then ask some charity to look after them.

At last: "maybe" you didn't read the above text at all. It mentions: The rescuing organisation is ready to take charge of the girls if the parents are not interested.

Please do not debilitate the debate.

9. Philip Holmes

To Maybe:

I am the Founder of UK's Esther Benjamins Trust (Esther was my late wife) which supports EBMF. I went on the rescue operation along with the rest of the team and can comment on what the arrangements were behind the scenes. We have been grossly and scandalously mis-represented in a terrible media campaign that has been orchestrated at least in part by the trafficker; you may have picked up on that.

First of all we have been rescuing Nepali kids from circuses since 2004. We pride ourselves in conducting the follow up and providing for the trafficking survivors post rescue. If you want evidence of that we can point to approximately 300 children (rescued children plus their siblings) in Makwanpur and adjacent districts who are receiving educational scholarships from us and 126 children who are in our full time care at our Godawari refuge as a long term commitment. Many others have passed through our programmes successfully and we have been very creative in finding work for returnees. For example:

BEFORE this rescue I contacted the Trust's London office to request funding support for the long term care and education of any girls that we removed from The Michael Job Center. Although we were going there with two family members to retrieve four named girls I fully anticipated that we might end up removing all 23. This has been our experience in the past at circus rescue when girls others than those we were seeking would ask to be rescued too. My funding request to London was approved. My view immediately after the rescue was that we would have to take each case on its own merits - reviewing the circumstances and wishes of parents AND the rescued child. However, broadly speaking I anticipated the desirability of these girls being educated in an English medium boarding school in Kathmandu valley rather than back in Humla. Fine so far...

The problem post return has been one that we have also seen before of aggressive, demanding parents who having messed up their children's lives once before manage to do it a second time by interfering unhealthily with the rehabilitation and reintegration. On this occasion the aggression has been much worse as it is being provoked by the trafficker; many of the families are his relatives. It is very difficult to negotiate or reason with these people but we remain willing to provide appropriate long term care should negotiation be possible. Note the word "appropriate". Not all the families are poor. Indeed one of the 23 is the trafficker's daughter and he's got plenty of money from his criminal activities.

EBMF has done a remarkable job in the most trying of circumstances, with very few voices such as Rubeena's raised in its support.

10. For God and my country.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Holmes. It needs immense courage, not least because the whole thing can be so complicated, to do the sort of thing your trust has been doing all these years. People sit in their comfortable homes and criticize without really reflecting on events. You've been doing what very few people in this part of the world would have the guts to do. You will always find support. God bless you. 

11. Philip Holmes
Thank you for that comment. This is a very dangerous situation and we have put ourselves in the firing line - before traffickers, media, opportunistic families - in our grass roots fight against child trafficking. We very much value support such as yours at this time as opposed to the armchair, groundless criticism of one of Nepal's scarce proactive NGOs.

12. Bharat Mohan
While I was FM of Nepal , it was estimated about 350,000 women will send remittance to Nepal by old age profession Prostitution in India & GCC .  Now my great party and great leaders are worried , how we will survive.Every one should stop writing or commenting.on this topic. In republican Nepal it will continue, check my wise friend Bamdev Gautam an
Expert in political Diaspora. Support us.....

13. murkha nepali
....sections of the Nepali media ended up helping the trafficker
What say of most of the media personality(mind you-not all but most) of Nepal?
They accept monies from the likes of Mr. Apurti Mahato (Since once he had a special predilection for that ministry). Only one of them was honest enough to bring this to public knowledge. Did all  others accept this "Dashain Gift" secretly(and maybe ecstatically)???
And once the event comes to light Nepali Press shows its most hypocritical face by condemning  Mr. Apurti Mahato who retaliated by threatening to cut the fingers of those who speak against him.
May Pashupati Nath save this nation since those who have obligation to do so are replete of turpitude.

14. Henry Scobie

Paper Orphans documentary posted on the web:

An interesting documentary on the Humla trade.


15. mAnI kR.
EBMF did for Nepali children & does.........................

16. Henry Scobie

PEAR Nepal -- Duelling videos on Humla trafficker Dal Bahadur Phadera:

(D.B. Phadera holds a Kathmandu press conference.)


(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)