Nepal’s Sex Industry Boom Lures Young Jobseekers

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Street sign for a Bar
Jhakkas Tequila Dance bar in Kathmandu, Nepal

Credit: Bijoyeta Das

KATHMANDU, Nepal (WOMENSENEWS)–Blood red lipstick, a makeup kit, short sequined dress, a perfume named Cobra, some loose change and pencil heel, strappy sandals. This is what Sunita carries in her orange jute bag for her night shift.

Sunita, her stage name, is a waitress at Jhakkas Tequila Dance bar, a restaurant cum pub in Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood. She’s 25 and started doing this 10 years ago, at 15.

Her job is to gyrate to Indian film songs in a tame version of a pole dance. “I am paid to flirt with the customer, to entertain him and encourage him to order more food and drinks,” she said. If she can boost sales she keeps the job. Otherwise, she will be replaced. “After all, there are so many young girls who come to Kathmandu looking for any job.”

As the night rolls on, the songs become raunchier, lights dimmer, clothing scantier and the groping and touching more intense. This is how Sunita sums up the dark side of Thamel.

“I am old, I have to try harder,” she said.

Clients are of all age groups, some as old as 60.

She came to the capital looking for a way out of poverty and violence in her village. A friend of a friend promised a job waiting tables during the day. “This is how it always begins and you reach a point of no return.”

Now Sunita works seven days a week, from 6 p.m. to midnight. Her salary is 6000 Nepali rupees, or $70 a month, and she gets about $20 in tips. She once hoped to save enough to return to her village. She hasn’t and may never.

Each year thousands of young women come to Kathmandu in search of financial independence and get trapped in brothels and the unregulated sex tourism industry.

Entertainment Epicenter

Anti-trafficking activists in Nepal say Thamel is the epicenter of the entertainment industry in Kathmandu, where there are different sorts of cabin restaurants partitioned into tiny cubicles, disco restaurants, duet restaurants that offer live performance of traditional Dohori folk music (involving a debate of witty poetry) and massage parlors. A boom in sex tourism in turn has led to an increase in internal trafficking, activists say.

Commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, both transnationally and domestically, have been rising, finds the 2012 U.S. Department of State‘s . It says traffickers bribe political leaders, businesses, government officials, local police and custom and border patrol for protection. The by the U.S. State Department says between one-fourth and one-third of the workers in sex tourism are children under the age of 18.

There is an elaborate nexus of traffickers in Nepal, said Pramesh Pradhan, program officer at , a Kathmandu-based organization working with trafficked victims. The syndicate involves high-ranking officials, local agents and business owners.

“Most of the time, the agents go to a village, they say to the girls, ‘You have so many problems here; don’t stay here.’ They promise jobs in Kathmandu. Sometimes the agents are local women or people familiar to the girls. ‘Don’t stay here. Come. You can get this and that.’ They sell them dreams and fantasies.”

Grooming Process

Trafficking in Persons in NepalTrafficking in Persons in Nepal

Data Source: Trafficking in Persons especially on women and children in Nepal, published in 2011. Page: v

So begins a crafty grooming process. Pradhan said a girl often undergoes a multi-step training period before she is thrown into the market.

“For a few weeks, she is exposed to a different life, she gets a mobile phone, shoes, fake ornaments, and for a village girl it is a dream. No work,” he said. But gradually they are introduced to sex, followed by beer and substance abuse.

“Slowly, slowly, when they have trapped a girl in their net, it is the beginning of a business. Then the end of their investment period and the beginning of their money back,” he added.

Activists in Nepal are alarmed at the increase in the number of such establishments but they are not advocating a complete shutdown.

Sulakshana Rana, program coordinator at , a nonprofit based in Kathmandu, said they are working to turn these establishments into more respectable and safe workplaces. “If you close these establishments there is a likelihood that these girls will go into street based prostitution, which is more difficult to control.”

Rana said it also decreases the income of the girls. “Here there is bargaining power and they know the client. Where would these girls go? We should not have allowed these places to mushroom at such an alarming rate,” she said.

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One thought on “Nepal’s Sex Industry Boom Lures Young Jobseekers

  1. My experience below reveals a sad aspect of the Nepali Dance Club girl’s lives…

    I was in Kathmandu with some friends about 2 months ago. One of our friends talked us into visiting the local dance bars in Sundara area as he had heard some good reviews from his local friends.

    Reached in the club near 10 PM, and was surprised to see very few customers and but there were too many dance girls around— unusual for a small club like that. We ordered a couple of beers and ordered a bottle of wine for girls who sat with us. I noticed two Asian blokes in their 40’s who were sitting in some “special corner” with a man who the girl told me was the owner of the club. The thing that made me concentrate on those guys was that a lot of girls in glamorous clothing were going their one by one sitting with them and talking with them for 5 minutes then a new girl will come. Surprisingly, most of these girls were not going to back stage (called green room like dance girls in the bar) rather they were leaving the club— After I could not hold the curiosity, I asked the girl sitting with us about what was happening in the corner. She revealed that those two guys are owners of dance clubs in Dubai and they are here in this club for recruiting new girls for their clubs in Dubai and the owner of this club (later revealed to be Rohit KC) is a famous agent who arranges suitable young Nepali girls depending upon the needs of foreign bosses and will then arrange for the selected girls, after audition (will be arranged later in a private place) , to travel abroad. She told me that Rohit will take half salary from these girls and will take commission from these girls as well and will arrange Immigration By-Pass for them.

    When asked what is immigration bypass, she revealed that rules in Nepal are very strict about Nepali girls to travel outside Nepal for dance bar jobs as there have been many cases when these girls were forcefully involved in sex-trade in Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in Africa, so the Nepali Government is not allowing any such girl to leave Nepal so some of the agents (with good connections) are trying to send out these girls to their bosses abroad through India and they take extra money for these tasks as immigrations officials in India and Nepal are also involved and will take their share.

    When these Asian bosses left, I sat with the owner of the club (Rohit) as I wanted to know more. I told him that I am interested in opening a Asian dance bar in West Africa and I need Nepali girls who will dance and will go out with customers. He was reluctant in the beginning but after 2 more bottles of beers, he started to open up a bit. He revealed that he has most beautiful artist girls, some of them will go out with customers but if I like choose a girl who refuses to agree on going out, I can change her mind abroad when I will have her passport and she will have to do what I say. The salary ranges from 50K to 100,000 Nepali rupees. And he quoted around 80K for immigration By-Pass (leaving Nepal without being caught by authorities)… When asked more about this By-Pass operation, he revealed that he has very good connections with Immigration Officials in Kathmandu and Delhi and even though Kathmandu airport is totally closed for artist girls to leave Nepal but he can still arrange and has been sending girls out every week. HE took my email address and promised me to send photo-shoot pictures of some good girls later tonight for me to choose. I left the clubs near mid night with my friends but this whole story and all what that girl Tania had told me, create a sickening feeling in my chest.

    These girls don’t know what sort of work they are about to do when they reach Dubai (or any other country) or what their boss will order them to do, I searched the internet later that night but did not find enough about this hidden trafficking, so I called Tania and invited her for a lunch next day. She had brought another friend of her who told be her name as Angel (a fake name maybe). She revealed that she was brought into this line of dancing in bars when she was 16 years old and was sent abroad only at the age of 17 (the agent arranged for her passport to show 19 years age) and was forced to go out with old Arab customers every week in Dubai. She tried to leave the country but could not as her passport was in custody of her bosses or managers and their house was always locked from outside after they come home from dance bars. She showed me a couple of cuts on her wrists which according to her were her attempts top commit suicide when she could not take it any more…. The whole story from Angel was long but I just want to portray the this bitter reality in apparently colorful Kathmandu dance bars…

    Even though its banned by government, but still, many of Nepali girls are being trafficked out of Nepal every day, right under the noses of immigration authorities… I wonder how many of those girls will come back with cut marks on their wrists and the same stories like Angel’s….

    My appeal to Nepali authorities or human Rights Organization is to do more to stop this flesh trade. I am listing contact details of Rohit (The Agent) below just in hope that some one will be able to stop these crocodiles one day and in the hope that it might help in avoiding another Angel story. Even if one of these girls is saved from being raped abroad, through the actions of authorities, I’ll consider my investigation successful.

    Rohit KC
    Dance Bar in Sundara (1st floor)