Report September 2009

How are things looking for pro filia in September 2009?
We founded pro filia at the end of November 2008. After nine months our organization has 34 members. In addition, there are many interested people who make donations or help in other ways. We have already reached the target sum stipulated in the contract with MAITI, for our first year of co-operation, and now we are collecting for next year! 


What are we doing at pro filia?
According to pro filia’s charter, our general objectives are the provision of education and health care for disadvantaged girls, and the establishment of equal opportunities for boys and girls.

In particular, we aim to pursue these objectives by promoting and supporting girls and young women in countries where they are psychologically, physiologically or socially disadvantaged due to a country's legal framework, dominant culture or religious traditions.

pro filia focuses on supporting girls who either already have been trafficked into sexual slavery or are in danger of being trafficked into such slavery. And we have decided to place our initial project in Nepal for the following reasons: 

Nepal, with a population of 28 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Roughly 45% of its population lives below the poverty line, struggling to get by on an average annual income of about $290. Girls and young women are especially affected by this poverty. Girls are often abandoned at birth, for instance; and fully two thirds of all girls are illiterate--after all, why send a girl to school? From the age of six girls are often put to work as servants by rich families. They are paid an annual income of 40-50 Euros and made to work 16 to 18 hours per day. In doing so girls are often victims of sexual assault by members of their employing family. And almost 50% of girls between 15-19 years of age are married off one way or another. Moreover, young mothers are often "cast off" by their husbands because of they have given birth to a girl rather than a boy. And of course Nepalese girls are frequently subject to domestic (and other forms of) violence.

Every year between ten to fifteen thousand girls in Nepal are trafficked into Indian brothels. They are sometimes sold by their parents. Traffickers receive around 700-800 Euros per girl from Indian brothel owners– depending on a given girls age and looks! Parents receive much less than this, normally selling their daughters due to poverty and ignorance. The fact is that girls have almost no value at all in Nepalese society. Since food is scarce, and boys rather than girls are responsible for the care of parents, Nepalese parents often sell their girls to promote their own short- and longer-term survival. 

In addition young girls are often lured away from home by false offers of work, or by false promises of marriage, and then sold into sexual slavery by the very fakers who have entrapped them. It is not unusual for a girl to be taken on a trip by a father or brother, moreover, and simply left in an unfamiliar place. The next person they meet will be the trafficker who has paid for them. Eventually they find themselves enslaved in a brothel without any papers to identify them at all. Birth certificates cost a good deal of money in Nepal, parents who procure them do so normally for boys rather than girls. This means that victims of sexual trafficking often do not exist officially, often do not know how to read or write, often do not know where they have been taken, and often have no way of escaping their fate.

Were they to try, however, things would almost certainly get worse; for refusal to work in an Indian brothel is normally met with a beating, an acid burning, with drugs, with gang rape, or with some combination of these horrors. Bear in mind, moreover, that the average age of a sex worker is 14 years old, and that the youngest girls to be freed by MAITI are just seven years old! 

Victims of sexual trafficking are normally forced to have sex with up to thirty men in per day – usually without condoms. And an Indian man normally pays about the same money for sex with a girl as he does for a Coca Cola. This leads to high rates of disease and death. About 80% of girls trafficked into sexual slavery are HIV positive; and there are high rates of infection for hepatitis, tuberculosis and other venereal diseases. 

Even those few girls who are freed or manage to escape have it hard. 80% of them are not welcome back by their families. Hence they tend to be ill, traumatized, without education, lacking in income or prospects. Most find their way into street prostitution in Nepal or India until they die. The situation beggars belief.

How can pro filia help to support these girls? 

We can only provide effective support for victims of Nepalese sex trafficking if we co-operate closely with an experienced and accredited Nepalese NGO, one that has extensive knowledge of the particular needs, and specific possibilities for providing it, within Nepalese society. For this reason, pro filia have decided to work together with MAITI, since MAITI not only satisfies all these criteria but also is a UN-awarded organisation for its good works. 

MAITI – Nepalese for ‘House of the Mother’ – was founded in 1993. It is a large non-governmental organization with more than 200 staff. Among them are members of the medical profession, social workers and lawyers. MAITI’s objectives are to combat the trafficking of girls and young women in Nepal into sexual slavery, to provide help for the victims of sex trafficking, and to provide serious life-alternatives to the potential victims of sexual trafficking in Nepal. MAITI’s runs information campaigns—often in the form of dance and theatre performances in Nepalese villages--finances and operates shelters, finances and operates clinics, runs hospices for traumatized girls, and does various other good works in Nepal. For instance MAITI will help to press charges against perpetrators of sex trafficking in Nepal, and provide free legal support for its victims.

pro filia and MAITI signed a contract of co-operation on 13.10.2009. The contract stipulates the specific aid efforts financed by pro filia and it defines our so-called "quantitative output": how many girls will be supported, with what kind of opportunities, over how many years, and so forth. The initial agreement is for a three-year period. During this time the aim will be to provide 350 girls and young women with accommodation, food and other assistance, including medical care. In addition there will be training for 25 border guards and information campaigns in the Bhairahawa region. pro filia will fund part of the total cost of these aid efforts. 

Further, the contract necessary qualitative standards of support as well: for instance, that the shelter is managed by relevant experts, that clear boundaries exist (and are maintained) between carers and girls within care, that finances are transparent; and so on. And finally the contract stipulates regular report and documentation obligations for MAITI to pro filia. MAITI will receive the next instalment of money agreed upon in the contract, for instance, only once pro filia has received a progress report along with appropriate financial documentation concerning the previous six months. 

After our initial enquiry MAITI immediately signalled their interest in co-operating with us. We were presented with a proposal for various ways in which we could provide support. We studied these proposals and decided to begin, jointly with MAITI, by financing a shelter for girls at the Indian border. MAITI has already set up several shelters at different check points along the Indian border. In the last twelve years they have saved around 9000 girls from crossing into India and sexual slavery.

The girls are approached at the border check points by women border guards trained by MAITI. These women were often themselves victims of the sex trafficking into Indian brothels. Our border guards work closely with border officials, of course; and because of their own experience they are skilled at assessing the situation of girls encountered at the border. When something strikes them as suspicious they approach a girl, just before she crosses into India, and offer immediate support in the form of refuge and care. Our border guards emphasize to girls that our support does not mean solely temporary food and accommodation, but rather includes longer-term prospects in education, vocational training and support.

We will also be establishing another shelter at the Indian border, this time at Biratnager, once again in co-operation with MAITI. And our aim at this shelter we will also be to offer potential victims of sex trafficking, as well as victims who return ill and typically broken, the perspective they need to lead a self-determined life. Often girls who escape from sex trafficking are terminally ill; and when this happens, they will be placed in a MAITI-run hospice so that they can be cared for humanely in the last phase of their lives. The cost of providing such a place for a terminally ill victim of sexual slavery is just 50 Euros per month.

In three weeks Bernd Brixius and I will travel to Nepal to sign the contract of co-operation with MAITI (the one agreed on 12.10.2009). The contract details concrete aid efforts funded by pro filia and specifies the quantitative output target by our aid efforts: e.g. the number of girls MAITI is to help, the type of support to be offered, etc. In the first three years, for instance, a total of 350 girls and young women are to receive accommodation, food and treatment (including medical care). 25 border guards are to be trained, and they are to start information campaigns throughout Biratnagar.

In addition, the contract specifies qualitative standards to be met as well as quantitative ones. The management of the shelter must remain in the hands of a trained expert, for instance; there must be a strict and clear boundary between care givers and the girls cared for; this boundary must be carefully maintained; and there must be financial transparency in all pro-filia-related activities. Furthermore, the agreement specifies that MAITI has regular reporting and documentation obligations to pro filia; and MAITI is to receive each instalment of money only on condition that satisfactory progress reports and financial documentation for the relevant periods have been submitted. 

Why found your own organization instead of simply supporting an existing one? 
We think that there are three main arguments:

A manageable project allows us to identify better how we can play a useful role. We can directly influence which types of support are offered, effect change exactly where we see it as necessary, and be more fully in control of the impact we have in Nepal.

If we have extensive knowledge of the particular range of support we offer, and if we are directly acquainted with co-workers and girls in care in Nepal, we shall doubtless put forth a greater personal effort ourselves, and be more persuasive in motivating others to help (and donate) to our organisation. 

We use 100% of monies donated to pro filia, as well as 100% of our membership fees, to fund projects in Nepal. By contrast, most organizations spend a high proportion of their donations and membership fees on administrative costs. We find sponsors for our administrative costs, and members of the pro filia executive committee finance them privately as well. All work at pro filia is done on a voluntary basis. 

We consider these to be forceful arguments have therefore founded pro filia!

What’s next?
To support the transit home (shelter) in Biratnagar 
To raise public awareness and understanding of the truly despicable situation of girls and young women in Nepal
To increase membership, donations and help from others. 

Next progress report:
After returning from our trip to Nepal in November, I will report on the experiences we had there. 

22.9.2009 Johanne Feldkamp