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Young Girls Trafficked For Commercial Sex Work Emerging As HIV/AIDS Risk Factor

Armen Hareyan's picture

Young women and girls who have been repatriated to Nepal after beingtrafficked to India for commercial sex work are emerging as an HIV/AIDSrisk factor, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New York Times reports.

The study was conducted by Jay Silverman, a professor of human development at Harvard's School of Public Health, and colleagues. It was funded by the State Department's Office of Trafficking in Persons, as well as Harvard and Boston University.Silverman examined medical records of 287 former sex workers who hadbeen rescued and repatriated between 1997 and 2005 by the Katmandu,Nepal-based charity Maiti Nepal, or Nepali Mother's Home. Most of theyoung women and girls had been sent home by Indian advocacy groupsworking with police. The study found that 38% of the participantstested positive for HIV. Among the 33 girls in the study who weretrafficked into sex work before age 15, 61% tested positive for HIV,the researchers found.

According to Aurorita Mendoza, a former Nepal coordinator for UNAIDS,when girls return to their home countries, they might be ostracized bytheir families and villages because of fear that they either willpressure other girls to enter the trade or ruin the village'sreputation. This often leads the returning girls to continue commercialsex work, the Times reports. Silverman said these womenalso might become pregnant, and because they cannot accessantiretroviral treatment, they transmit HIV to their infants. Accordingto the study, the youngest girls also tended to have worked in numerousestablishments for more than one year, which also increased their riskof contracting HIV.

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According to Silverman, owners of sex workestablishments pay double for young girls and increase the price theycharge customers to have sex with them. He added that owners "sometimespresen[t] them as virgins" because men sometimes think young girls havefewer diseases, or they believe a common myth in some countries thatsex with a virgin can cure HIV/AIDS, the Times reports.

Silvermansaid about 50% of the women and girls in the study were promised workas maids or in restaurants before going to India. Some were invited tovisit family or make pilgrimages and then sold to establishment ownersby relatives, while some went to marry men in India. Others weredrugged and kidnapped, sometimes by older women who offered them a cupof tea or a soft drink in a public market or train station, Silvermansaid. Mendoza said some girls enter the sex trade knowingly because ofpoverty (McNeil, New York Times, 8/1).


"The repatriation of Nepalese survivors of sex trafficking may play acritical role in spreading HIV across South Asian borders," Silvermansaid, adding, "They are extremely vulnerable to being coerced intounsafe sexual behavior and being retrafficked for sexual exploitation,either within Nepal or back in India" (AP/San Jose Mercury News,8/1). He added that the "high rates of HIV we have documented supportconcerns that sex trafficking may be a significant factor in bothmaintaining the HIV epidemic in India and in the expansion of thisepidemic to its lower-prevalence neighbors" (Reuters,7/31). Mendoza called the study "very important," adding, "It's thefirst I know of that linked HIV to sex-trafficked girls." According toSilverman, the problem is emerging in other parts of the world. Girlsfrom China's Yunnan province trafficked to Southeast Asia, Iraqi girlsfrom Syrian and Jordanian refugee camps and Afghan girls trafficked toIran or Pakistan appear to experience the same circumstances as thestudy participants and likely are contributing to the spread of HIV insouthern China, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Silverman said. "Mostauthorities fighting human trafficking don't see it as having anythingto do with HIV," he said, adding, "It is just not being documented" (New York Times, 7/31).

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