Anti-trafficking sessions prevent mother’s unsafe migration

After leaving an abusive relationship, Sakuntala believed her only hope was to travel abroad to work to support her son. However, anti-trafficking sessions organised by Plan International Nepal showed her how unsafe this could be and she is now learning new skills to support her family.

Sakuntala, 35, is a successful entrepreneur from the southern part of Sunsari District in Nepal. Her small tea and snack stall enables her to earn a good income which she uses to support her family and pay for her son’s education. But her journey to this point has not been easy. Forced into an unhappy marriage, she endured years of abuse at the hands of her former husband before eventually finding the strength to leave him.

Sakuntala running her tea shop in a market
Sakuntala running her tea shop in a market.

“I am my parent’s third child and because of my family’s poor situation, I had to give up my studies. My family married me to a drunkard at the age of 20. After a year, I gave birth to my son. My relationship was abusive, there was not a day when my husband did not beat me to tears and blood,” Sakuntala tells us.

To survive and feed her baby, Sakuntala had to beg for money from her parents who struggled to help their daughter. Ashamed to ask for their help due to her parent’s impoverished state, Sakuntala didn’t know what else to do as her husband refused to support her and his son. “I was not comfortable asking for their help, but I didn’t have any choice. They were the only ones who I trusted.”

Sakuntala says she felt humiliated every day in her relationship. “The physical scars on my body and the mental trauma I went through is the most terrible time of my life. I did not want to continue my relationship with a drunkard anymore. One day I decided to leave him, but it took me years to decide to do this and escape.”

Negative stereotypes around divorce for Nepali women

In Nepal, there are stigmas attached to divorce and there is a huge disparity in the way divorced women and men are looked upon in this society. For men, they are free to get remarried without any shame or blame, but divorced and separated women are looked down upon and often shunned by their community.

Divorced women also go through character assassinations, accusations and different forms of violence. Moreover, women are usually held responsible for the failed marriage as they are expected to obey everything their husband says and tolerate anything. Because of this, many women choose to stay with their husbands, putting up with all kind of domestic violence or adultery.

For these reasons, Sakuntala’s decision to leave her husband was an extremely brave one. “The decision was solely mine and I am grateful for what I did. I divorced him in a few months. The day I left him was such a relief. I returned home with my son. I know now I struggled double to survive with my little boy.”

However, after just a few days, Sakuntala’s parents told her they could not afford to support her and her young son and she needed to find work to pay her way. However, without any training or skills this was not such an easy task.

“In my community, there are other women going through similar issues. There is an economic crisis among women who are domestic violence survivors. We are not educated nor do we have any skills to apply for a job. The nearest place where women can find work is in Siliguri, India.”

There is an economic crisis among women who are domestic violence survivors.

With few other options, Sakuntala made up her mind to go to Siliguri and leave her son behind with her parents. “I did not have any idea how I could get a job in Siliguri. The only thing I had in my mind was to give my son a good education. I wanted to be able to pay his school fees and give him a decent life.”

Every year thousands of Nepali women seek employment abroad. They are motivated by the promise of opportunities that do not exist for them in Nepal. But once there, they rarely find safe or secure employment and are exposed to abusive working conditions, ill-defined legal status in a foreign country, physical and mental health risks, and stigma upon return to their home country.

“My situation got even worse when the lockdown started during the COVID-19 pandemic. I faced even more problems in my day-to-day life. It was difficult to stay at home and see your family members starving. I did not have any skills which I could use and do work from home and feed my son,” Sakuntala explains.

Support for vulnerable women

Plan International is working in Nepal to raise awareness of human trafficking and unsafe migration practices as part of the ProTEcT project. Alongside our local partner Common Platform for Common Goal (CoCoN) we provide training and support to young people so they can became anti-trafficking ambassadors in their communities.

Sakuntala attended one of the awareness raising sessions led by the youth ambassadors and was identified as being at high risk of trafficking after explaining that she was planning on travelling to Siliguri to find work to support her family. But after learning more about the potential risks involved with unsafe migration and the options available to learn new livelihood skills, Sakuntala decided to cancel her plans.

Protection from violence, Skills and work, Gender-based violence, Lifeskills training, Vocational training