We just celebrated the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence (Nov 25-Dec 10), during which the topic of the rights of women was discussed extensively. But missing was a discussion of the rights of women in Badi Community, where a woman’s sexuality is still a major source of income. “Choro Janmey Khasi, Chori Janmey Farsi” (Goat if a boy is born, pumpkin if a girl) is a popular adage in our patriarchal society. But Badi community, where women are highly valued, has always remained an exception to this adage. In this community, no one earns as much as a female, due to which the birth of girl child is celebrated more than the birth of a son.
But the girl child, despite being precious in her own community, is of no value outside her little circle. She is treated merely as a sex-toy: something which is attractive but not acceptable. We as a civilized society should be ashamed of this phenomenon. Though the very first article of the Interim Constitution speaks of the right to dignified life as a fundamental right, many girl children from the Badi community suffer discrimination from rest of the society. Here, it is pertinent to raise an important question: Can this discrimination be termed gender violence, or should there be some other term for it?
The government signed a two-point agreement with the National Badi Rights Association (NBRA) in 2007 to bring about positive changes in the life of Badi people. But the changes are yet to be felt on the ground. The day the agreement between the NBRA and the government was signed, most media carried the news of females of Badi community throughout the country promising to leave prostitution. But it turned out that the conditions were less than favorable for Badi women to do so. Though some steps, touted to be milestones in the eradication of Badi women’s prostitution, were also taken by government, the promised benefits are yet to be enjoyed by the Badi people.
For example, the government had promised to distribute citizenships to Badi people, but the work is incomplete due to various legal issues. Further, the government’s promise of education for minors, employment for youths, and basic health facilities for all members of the community has not been fulfilled either, leading to socio-economic crises in the community. “After leaving prostitution, I started a tea shop. But people would tell me on my face that they would not accept tea from a Badi. Hence, I am back in my old profession,” says a Badi woman. Such complaints are often heard from many Badi women from Surkhet, Dang, Bardia and other districts in the mid- and far-western Nepal.
This compelled many of those who were said to have left the sex trade to find a viable alternative, to no avail. Most returned to their traditional business of commercial sex, which has put the girls in the community in a vulnerable position. Older Badi women returning to prostitution is an indicator that their girl children, who are enrolled in grades seven or eight, might also drop out of school to follow their mothers’ footsteps. Some may voluntarily choose the profession; many are forced into it. Umadevi Badi, who played a pioneering role in the establishment of NBRA, herself was in grade eight when she joined prostitution. The girl children in Badi community are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and also to STDs like HIV/ AIDS.
The Badi girls, even those who are not involved in sex trade, still remain objects to be stared at by the rest of the society. The Aabash Griha (shelter) allocated to them had managed to shield many of them from these stares. But the pace with which Badi women are returning to their traditional occupation of late is troubling.
Article 22 on Rights of Child in Interim Constitution (2063) clearly speaks about every child’s right to a name and identity. In order to ensure that the Badi child is no exception, it is important that a parent of the child be provided with a citizenship. The state has in the constitution ensured the right of every child to proper nurturing and social security. The state also protects the right of a child against any form of exploitation and from being involved in any form of labor. But it is a norm for Badi girls, from an early age, mostly between 13 and 14, to be involved in sex work. The minor girls of the community might ask, rightfully, why they fall outside the state defined criteria of ‘child’.
The Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Act 2064 in its section 4, sub-section 1(b) and (d) clearly mentions that a person who forces someone into prostitution with or without financial benefit, or engages in prostitution, shall be deemed to have committed human trafficking. In other words, prostitution and forcing someone into prostitution are both regarded as crimes against the state and also against the individual. But still, Badi girls are compelled to be a part of this heinous crime, for they have no other option.
Despite the presence of various national laws, ratified international declarations and a commission established to provide the Badi community with their socio-cultural, political and fundamental rights, the state has been able to do very little for them. As a result, the girl children of this undeclared red-light area continue to be exploited and abused in one way or another. Even if they want a new start, they face many hindrances. The society questions their past, the state questions their present, and they themselves question their future. Effective plans, projects, and skill-development trainings are required to prevent the guardians of these children from forcing them into prostitution. Otherwise, the rights outlined in the laws of the land are worthless to a girl child who is inside an Undeclared red-light Area—the Badi Community.
The author is founder of Youth for Empowerment of Society (YES)